By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Kennedy, a former Davis-administration Cabinet member, was chosen by Schwarzenegger after his disastrous 2005 special election, and her presence allows Schwarzenegger to offload much of the day-to-day work of governing. Griping Republicans say that’s the problem, blaming her for the abandonment of Schwarzenegger’s right flank. “People are scared to death of Susan,” says a former staffer who, like other Kennedy critics, insists on anonymity. “She holds a grudge and is willing to take people out.”
Yet in a revealing moment in a video at bondaccountability.ca.gov, Kennedy sits behind the governor, wearing her face of infinite suffering, as he gives a speech and signs an executive order related to infrastructure bonds. As he’s wrapping up, she leans forward to remind Schwarzenegger not to snub Republican Assembly Leader Mike Villines (who is leading the charge in Sacramento this month against Arnold’s suggestion of significant new taxes plus cuts). It is Schwarzenegger himself who gave low priority to his relations with his own party, and made his distance from Republicans an odd point of pride, which left him a man without a party. Now, in the budget slog, the governor has failed to win even the few Republican votes needed for an agreement.
He can only dream big, and California is getting smaller
“I am a governor that does not believe that the action is in Sacramento and sitting around the office,” Schwarzenegger said during a July photo op at a Shasta County firefighting compound. “That is not going to do anyone any good.”
In November 2006, voters approved $42 billion in Schwarzenegger-favored infrastructure bonds for highways, roads and transit systems, schools, housing, parks, levees, and water-supply systems.
But by last week, the headlines reported the cancellation of nearly 2,000 highway-improvement, housing, prison and other projects after the state’s tanking credit rating and budget fiasco forced the obscure Pooled Money Investment Board to cancel $3.8 billion in infrastructure financing.
Infrastructure, as conservative Republican Tom McClintock frequently points out, was largely abandoned after the 1960s in California. Since 1958, the Democrats have controlled the 120-member state Legislature for all but three or four years, and have steadily shifted spending from basics like roads and reservoirs to social programs. Yet infrastructure is a key part of Schwarzenegger’s ambitions for a legacy. Says Salladay, “He’d like to be a Pat Brown II, building dams, monuments, things you can actually see.”
Yet Schwarzenegger’s biggest project of all, the one that propelled him into office in 2003, requires the passion for the intricacies of governing that he lacks: California’s dysfunctional budgeting.
He’s just bored
If there’s a thread running through Schwarzenegger’s career — world-championship bodybuilder, No. 1 global box-office earner, shrewd and successful real estate investor, entrepreneur do-gooder, all areas of effort that have led to a residual goodwill from associates — it’s his ability to achieve dominance over his environment and keep an eye out for the next main chance.
Schwarzenegger’s decreasing willingness to spend time in Sacramento and his standard-business-hours schedule imply to some that he is ready to move on. “There is a sense that things are winding down in the Schwarzenegger administration,” says a former staffer. “There’s still a lot he can do, but he’s not spending any time in Sacramento. He’s averaging about one night a week, down from three or four nights a week a few years ago,” when he famously lived at the Hyatt Hotel across from the Capitol and could be chatted up by passersby while he dined at restaurants like Esquire Grill and Chops.
Maybe it has dawned on the governor that Sacramento’s bureaucracy and budget will grow even when they should shrink, and that California voters are willing to borrow and spend with abandon. (In November, voters agreed to take on at least another $23 billion in debt, most of which will be paid back by their children and grandchildren.)
Disengagement would explain his willingness to cede the daily details to others, and the laid-back demeanor with which he delivers even apocalyptic warnings to the cameras. He has two years left as governor, and is constitutionally barred from running for the White House. A run for the U.S. Senate also seems unlikely. Barbara Boxer’s seat is not especially vulnerable, and Dianne Feinstein would be taking on a terrible job if she left the U.S. Senate to run for governor, despite polls indicating she would win.
Some wonder if he might end up as a roving climate-change envoy in the Obama administration. “He’s got an environmental platform, and he communicates on that better than Al Gore does,” says Rob Stutzman, Schwarzenegger’s former communications chief, who is often blamed for pushing Arnold too far into the Republican fold during the failed Year of Reform, just as others now blame Susan Kennedy for pushing him into the arms of the Legislature’s fiscally undisciplined Democrats.