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All of which makes Schwarzenegger a moderate of a peculiar sort. On some social issues and some environmental ones, he’s actually more left than center. But on economic, taxation and consumer issues, his orientation is firmly right-wing.
There was nothing especially moderate or pro-consumer about Schwarzenegger’s vetoing the minimum-wage hike or the health-care bills opposed by Big Pharma. Nor did he show centrism by snubbing a bill that would prevent homeowner associations from seizing properties over a few dollars in unpaid dues. Or by rejecting a law requiring the disclosure of infection rates at hospitals, and by spurning a bill to notify the public when there’s a recall of spoiled meat. Or by vetoing another that would have placed limits on usurious interest rates charged by used-car dealers. By the way, Schwarzenegger campaigns have received more than $1 million from auto dealers.
The Chamber of Commerce’s Top 10 “job killers” included the used-car bill, the minimum-wage hike and the bill to make state contractors use U.S. workers. “There were no surprises in his actions,” said California Chamber president Allan Zaremberg in a release. “The governor should be applauded for his commitment to bringing employers back to our state.”
Schwarzenegger is “pretty much as advertised,” said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution. “On social issues, he tends to be progressive to left of center. On economic issues, he tends to be conservative, right of center. Guess where you end up? In the middle, a sort of centrist zero-sum game.”
But even the governor’s environmental supporters were given pause when Schwarzenegger vetoed a modest bill to limit port pollution in the L.A. basin to its current levels. Even these levels are documented as causing health ailments and death. The bill, however, could have restrained port growth. Bad for business, as the Chamber would say.
And Schwarzenegger’s support of Proposition 64 is especially troubling for progressives because the initiative would limit public-interest lawsuits. Such litigation is fundamental for environmental and consumer groups who go after major polluters and fraudulent business practices. Unscrupulous lawyers have abused these laws, but a more limited, more surgical fix was called for, said Betsy Imholz, director of Consumers Union’s West Coast office.
Overall, say critics, Schwarzenegger embraces some of the worst aspects of the Bush II Republicanism that so eagerly favors the wealthy. From the start, Schwarzenegger ruled out easing the budget crisis by increasing taxes on the wealthy — even to the levels under Republican governors such as Wilson and Ronald Reagan. “The first thing he announced [as governor] is if you were a millionaire in California you were not going to be asked for one dime of sacrifice — that was his starting mode,” said state Treasurer Phil Angelides, who is expected to run for governor against Schwarzenegger. But “if you were a community-college student, you were asked to pay more in fees.”
As for members of the Hoover-dominated economic council, “their writings, their actions, over the past 20 years could not have been clearer,” said Angelides, who called the group Team Trickle Down. “Time after time, when they have offered their economic advice, it has been to open up corporate tax loopholes and leave us with massive deficits.”
The Hoover’s Whalen dismissed Angelides’ statements as politicking. He stuck to a view of Schwarzenegger as a California-style schizophrenic centrist, although he didn’t use the word schizophrenic. “Look at the initiative process in California,” said Whalen. “We will probably pass a stem-cell initiative this fall, which is a socially progressive idea. We also passed a medical-marijuana initiative. At the same time, we passed initiatives on illegal immigration and affirmative action that are to the right. There are sort of two voices in California. Schwarzenegger did a movie called Twins, and maybe that’s the story here. He’s sort of a political twin if you will.”
Last week, Schwarzenegger himself used the same metaphor in a different, but telling, way. It happened when Schwarzenegger met with his economic council. At the gathering, right-wing economic guru Milton Friedman briefly reprised his mantra of pushing to cut taxes and shrink government services. “The basic problem is not what the government should do, but what the government should not do,” said Friedman. That, he said, is the major problem in California.
For his part, Schwarzenegger called Friedman “my great hero.” And when he put his arm around Friedman, he couldn’t help but remark on their substantial height difference, which reminded Schwarzenegger of his past starring role with the undersize Danny DeVito. Said the governor, as he embraced Friedman: “It’s Twins 2.”
But unlike the original, which played for laughs, this sequel, with Schwarzenegger and Friedman pulling the levers on California’s economy, would send Democrats running from the theater screaming.