The worst night of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s short political life began ominously, with the overwhelming defeat of the Ohio reapportionment reform initiative he backed in a quid pro quo with Common Cause, which backed his California reapportionment initiative. It ended in an across-the-board victory for the governor’s most bitter political opponents, which left them both exultant and even angrier with the defeated ex-Terminator than before. And Schwarzenegger, according to sources in his own camp, has no real plan to correct his increasingly disastrous course.
After watching Schwarzenegger’s election-night speech, in which he acted as though nothing much had happened all year and he had not, you know, just had his butt handed to him on all four of his “Year of Reform” initiatives, many in the winning Alliance for a Better California (ABC) labor coalition’s victory bash at Sacramento’s Grand Ballroom were thoroughly disgusted with the man whose hotel penthouse digs are a block away.
“They’ve treated people like they’re stupid all year,” remarked Gale Kaufman, quarterback of the anti-Arnold team, shaking her head. “People are not stupid. It’s enough! Fuck him.”
“Time really is on our side. We are not going to let him get away with anything,” declared California Teachers Association president Barbara Kerr, whose union spent an astounding $50 million — as much as Schwarzenegger raised from others and spent personally all year — to defeat the Arnold agenda. (Indeed, an amusing moment occurred when Kerr introduced CTA controller Carlos Moreno — who swore in an affidavit last month that the CTA had already spent a three-year emergency dues increase on this year’s initiative fight — to strategist Kaufman, who mock-bowed at his feet.)
“We’re going to keep chasing Arnold, right out of office,” vowed California Nurses Association president Deborah Burger, whose union has bedeviled him since his infamous “I kick their butts” remark at the state women’s conference last year.
Still thrilled by labor’s upstaging of Arnold’s closing weekend bus tour, a diversion that featured labor’s own chase bus, and Hollywood allies Warren Beatty and Annette Bening crashing an Arnold rally in San Diego, Burger claimed that Schwarzenegger “just doesn’t get it, because he generalizes from his own experience. You know, he had two nurses taking care of him round the clock after his heart surgery. He thought we were nice, fluffy helpers. He didn’t know how tough and persistent nurses have to be to get things done in the real world he doesn’t live in.”
Throughout the ballroom, just back from witness protection, were Democratic politicians like State Treasurer Phil Angelides, Controller Steve Westly, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, Senate President Don Perata and state party chairman Art Torres. Labor’s polling told them that politicians were a negative, that they wanted to concentrate public attention on the politician called Arnold, so they relied on union leaders and stars like Beatty, Bening and Rob Reiner to engage the opposition and whip up Democratic voters.
Perhaps worse for the governor than the increased enmity of those who just vanquished him is that, according to Schwarzenegger sources, there is no real plan or effective new operation to correct this latest, and certainly largest, in a string of problems for the formerly most popular governor in California history.
Kaufman is utterly contemptuous of the current version of Team Schwarzenegger.
“They are incredibly dense and immature,” she says. “They lie to the press. They really can only see their side of things, and that’s why their strategy doesn’t come together well. I have been doing this a very long time, and this crowd is just not up to this level of a contest. You can anticipate their every move. If he didn’t have the money to put such grand events together, they would be lost.”
Current Arnold chief strategist Mike Murphy claimed that all was well, that Arnold’s polls showed him winning and that the public polls that indicated deep problems were “lefty polls.” Schwarzenegger Communications Director Rob Stutzman bizarrely told the Reuters news agency on Monday that they would win three initiatives “for sure.” (He did not accept a bet.)
The truth is that Arnold’s internal polls also showed his initiatives to be in deep trouble throughout. Indeed, flacks notwithstanding, the Arnold and ABC tracking polls were quite similar at the end.
Word from Arnold camp sources at his election-night HQ is that Murphy is done. “Ya think?” quips Kaufman.
Even before the results, conservative newsletter publisher Jon Fleishman reported that chief of staff Pat Clarey, Murphy’s key internal ally, who opposed a face-saving deal with Democrats, would leave soon. Fleishman, who featured daily pro-Arnold propaganda all year and describes himself as a friend of the former HMO lobbyist, told me she neither confirmed nor denied what he was told by six sources. Clarey told me she would be “back at my desk in the horseshoe [Governor’s Office] tomorrow.” She didn’t say for how long.
Former Democratic Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who didn’t return calls, was the biggest name swirling about as her rumored replacement. But there is a huge problem. With his trouncing and unreflective speech, Schwarzenegger is radioactive for Democrats.
Maria Shriver, who was not confirmed to attend Arnold’s election-night party until a few hours before she arrived, wants him to move back to the bipartisan center, and he has begun talking that way again. The center of a mini–soap opera all her own, Shriver was at a Hearst Castle charity event when her former friend Beatty ambushed her husband’s bus tour and with Prince Charles in Berkeley while Arnold hopscotched the state by jet on election eve.
Multiple Arnold sources confirm that, just as there was never a specific plan for the misbegotten “Year of Reform,” there is now no real plan for an Arnold move back to the bipartisan center, just a set of unformed intentions for “big thinking.”
Maybe homelessness. Or housing. Or roads. Maybe we don’t know how to pay for it. Maybe choosing and losing the partisan war means that Team Schwarzenegger executed not Total Recall the Sequel but Recall in Reverse. With the very interests whose world was turned upside down in 2003 now riding with the seal of public approval, maybe haphazard benign intentions are the road to more ruin.