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Capitol Gains

As we embark on the Era of Arnold, here are 10 delightful and appalling, often delightfully appalling, things to mark the occasion:

1 No More Gray Davis Joy Rides

Conservatives would say that the Davis joy rides of the last five years involved spending tens of billions of dollars that the state didn’t actually have. Well, there is that, but this is more literal. It’s been reported that the former governor, limo’d around for years by his California Highway Patrol security detachment, has to get a driver’s license and re-learn how to drive. If he takes a road test, he’ll excel on terrorist evasive maneuvers. As governor, Davis took his state car out for license-free and security-free joy rides for years. Such undisciplined behavior by the notoriously disciplined governor might surprise a few people. It probably could have won him a few votes if people had only known.

2 No More “Puke Politics”

Democratic Attorney General Bill Lockyer coined the lasting phrase to describe the down-in-the-gutter style of attack-dog politics that accompanied many of the Democratic victories of the ’90s, especially those of Davis. With his admitted record of obnoxious behavior, Schwarzenegger represented the biggest target for such politics to date. None of it worked; in fact, Field Poll director Mark di Camillo says his research shows it all backfired, and so the attack dogs bay no more.

3 Stupidest Argument Against the Recall

This ends up a two-way tie. Most liberal pols and journos intoned that a special election to recall the sitting governor of California and replace him with God knows who would draw a very low turnout of voters and disenfranchise many. In reality, the recall turnout was 61 percent, the highest in 20 years. Then some argued that the recall would cost too much. In the totality of real life, $60 million was a small price to pay compared to three other numbers: $78 million raised for Davis’ re-election, the $38 billion state budget deficit, and $44 billion in long-term electric-power contracts negotiated in panic at the height of the market. Game over.

4 Stupidest Argument for

the Recall

One thing comes immediately to mind. “We must recall Gray Davis in order to stop this spending of the money that the state of Kah-lee-fohr-nyah does not have.” Who said that? Why, our beloved (in many quarters) new governor — who didn’t mention that massive borrowing was also at the core of his budget plan. A minor oversight. I know, Governor, in the future there will not be such overspending. We’re not there yet.

5 That Nice Jim Brulte

Talking with one of the Arnold haters in the press corps at the Schwarzenegger inaugural, I was struck by how much she likes Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte and dislikes Schwarzenegger. Brulte is a great big seemingly cuddly teddy bear of a pol, given to off-the-record asides that suggest he’s not part of the crazy right-wing thing. Perhaps not. But he is the man who stopped any Republican from voting for any tax increase this year, which was key to destabilizing the Davis governorship. And he just played a critical role in blocking any compromise with Democrats on Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget spending cap, which may lead to tough new budget cuts. We’ll see if he reaches the end of his term before the press, which knows far more Democrats than Republicans and needs Brulte as a source, catches on that he really may be a right-wing kind of guy.

6 Arianna STILL Running Against Arnold

She had several different positions on the recall before coming out against it again as she finally campaigned with Gray Davis on his chartered jet. But throughout it all, Arianna Huffington stayed focused on one man: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now she will focus on him in her new book — Fanatics, Fools, and Alpha Males (formerly just Fanatics and Fools, for the Republicans and Democrats, respectively) — as Bush Jr., or something worse, comes to California. All of this will come as something of a surprise to the Bush administration, which finds itself at loggerheads with Schwarzenegger on environmental and social issues.

7 Worst Polling Information

That would be the Los Angeles Times, whose polls consistently clashed with the private polls relied on by the Democrats and Republicans and with the other major public polls, and whose alternate universe–style coverage of the campaign may have left many of its trusting readers dumbfounded.

8 The Truth About the

Big Cigars

Arnold Schwarzenegger loves cigars. Now he’s passing them out to Democratic legislators, buddying up to them in between bouts of his veteran Republican staffers attacking them. But if the most famous Austrian since the von Trapp family and the little house-painter fellow is really such a cigar aficionado — which happens to be the name of the magazine to which he has given his most in-depth political interview — then why does his cigar shop in Santa Monica offer only paper matches? Any true connoisseur knows that only wooden matches will do, that the chemicals in paper matches adulterate the pure tobacco experience of a premium cigar. So, Mr. S, enlighten us.

9 Arnold’s Dumbest Idea

So you are Arnold Schwarzenegger. You are heading to a huge victory when the L.A. Times, after a ballyhooed seven weeks of investigation into every aspect of your life by dozens of reporters, offers up its big exposé on you five days before the election. You do something very smart, doubly so because it has the virtue of being true. You go out and tell your supporters that you have been a real jerk at times and you’re sorry. But the story stays in the news because, hey, your opponents are desperate as hell. After months of posturing about what they supposedly have on you, it’s almost amusing that this is all they could find. So (A) Knowing that polls show only people who don’t like you want to hear more, you broaden and deepen your apology without getting into gory details, or (B) Tell Tom Brokaw that you will investigate your own behavior and make a full report.

Amazingly, you choose Option B, setting yourself up for the inevitable follow-ups, when you least want them, and quietly announce weeks later that you won’t be hiring an investigator after all. We can’t help but ask anyway: Where’s your report, Governor?

10 Arnold’s Opponents’

Dumbest Move

The one critical and boneheaded move occurred in the big Sacramento debate. Schwarzenegger had just been asked about his budget plan, which just happened to be nonexistent. A very good question, since his much criticized answer was that he would conduct an audit of the books, convene his all-star panel of experts and institute a spending cap. “Ja, we will open up all the books to the people and audit everything to find the billions of dollars in waste.” In other words, he wasn’t saying until after the election.

As Schwarzenegger launched into his perilous recitation, lite guv Cruz Bustamante foolishly interrupted him, saying that he had voted for a middle-class tax cut; Huffington agreed, telling Schwarzenegger that he sounded like Bush. That drew Schwarzenegger’s obviously planned riposte, that if she wanted to campaign against Bush she should go to New Hampshire (the first presidential-primary state). Whereupon the angry Huffington called him “hypocritical.” Prompting Schwarzenegger to needle her, suggesting “a little bit more decaf.”

In all the Sturm und Drang, Huffington and Bustamante forgot what the actual question was and thus lost their last opportunity to actually get Arnold.

The style and substance of this exchange were key to Schwarzenegger’s popularly perceived victory in the debate, more than the famous exchange in which he told Huffington he had a role for her in T4. (Which also didn’t hurt him with voters.) At the customary postmortem of political experts on the governor’s race at UC Berkeley, every campaign in attendance, from Green Peter Camejo’s on the left to Republican Tom McClintock’s on the right, agreed that the attacks on Schwarzenegger only served to help him. So much so that a sequel to Recall 2003 is not likely coming to California polling places anytime soon.

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