The end of the Schwarzenegger dream.
Dec 26, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 15 • By K.E. GRUBBS JR.
Arnold Steinberg, probably California's smartest political strategist, predicted the disaster, arguing the mistake was in the bundling of all those propositions in a special election (see, in these pages, Steinberg's "Losing Propositions," Nov. 21). Any of them individually, provided it was included on a regularly scheduled ballot, might well have passed. Together, they allowed the opposition to pool their considerable resources.
No doubt true, but it was hard to fault the governor for taking his case to the voters as he'd promised. In the ruins, many of his supporters urged Schwarzenegger to find his inner Conan. Or at least his inner libertarian, California being a "socially liberal" state, especially in the coastal counties. A small government economic approach could also bring back the rural counties, which on the electoral map turn the Golden State a counterintuitive red. Political analysts on all sides waited for a sign.
IN LATE NOVEMBER, Schwarzenegger shocked Republican supporters by picking Susan Kennedy (no relation to Maria Shriver) to run his office. That means hiring and firing, policy, legislative negotiations, pretty much the whole gubernatorial shooting match. Kennedy, it so happens, served as cabinet secretary for Governor Gray Davis. Her appointment thus symbolically voids the recall itself. On top of that, she "married" her lesbian lover a few years ago in a Hawaiian ceremony attended by several Democratic legislators. That's way beyond the "social liberalism" most Californians feel comfortable with. She cut her political cuspids three decades ago in Tom Hayden's radical Campaign for Economic Democracy, ending up on the state's Public Utilities Commission, where, some claim, she experienced an antiregulatory epiphany. She did a stint as executive director of the state Democratic party.
The GOP reaction? Swift and vehement. Assemblyman Ray Haynes compared the appointment to a quarterback tossing the pigskin to the other team. Mark Johnson, a wealthy and influential Orange County Republican who oversees the board of trustees of the Hoover Institution, decried the freak decision by his fellow moderate: "I could be angry, I could be frustrated, but most of all I am just deeply saddened by the governor's choice. This appointment does more to alienate the governor's solid base of Republican support than anything I could have imagined in my worst nightmare." The California Republican Assembly, the party's conservative base, is circulating a petition to demand that the governor rescind the Kennedy appointment. Dan Schnur, former governor Pete Wilson's communications chief, suggested in his Los Angeles Times column that it's time for Arnold to run for reelection next year as an independent, if he runs at all.
Last week the governor gave Republican legislators an hour--an hour--of his time for them to vent. Vent they did, some diplomatically, some not so. The governor asked them to judge him by his record, touching on his plan to call next year for a multimillion-dollar bond for transportation improvement. According to various accounts, some were appeased. All will hear from the party base, which may be in more of a mood to take up Schnur's suggestion. If that happens, who will run for governor as a Republican next year? State Senator Tom McClintock, a solid conservative respected by the state's voters, has committed himself to running for lieutenant governor, but if Schwarzenegger goes independent, there could be time for the popular senator to move his crosshairs upward. Nobody from the private sector or academia, at this stage, looks interested.
Needless to say, a three-way race would disadvantage Republicans, many of whom, feeling misused and trapped by Schwarzenegger, could simply sit out the next election. What's more, they won't have comic actor, movie producer, and liberal activist Rob Reiner as a negative rallying point. Reiner, their biggest fear, has taken himself out of the race, perhaps figuring that Arnold has introduced enough comedy into state politics. The Democrats' best bet, if they can put aside the hack state treasurer Phil Angelides, is Steve Westly, the pro-business state controller. A founding executive at eBay and a polished speaker, Westly could persuade Republicans they can live with him.
LEW UHLER sits in his suburban Sacramento office and plots, which he's been doing since he worked for Governor Ronald Reagan in the sixties and seventies. Next year, he tells me, efforts will be made to place at least six more initiatives on the ballot, with help from Governor Schwarzenegger or without. That could repeat Steinberg's bundling problem, but Uhler, who worked on last fall's initiatives, rues the failure of the governor's team to mount a serious offensive. It's hard to resist the calculation that the next initiatives' handlers actually might be better off divorced from Arnold.
Still vague, those initiatives will probably include a way to augment the U.S. Border Patrol (Arnold has vacillated on the immigration issue); impose stiffer management on the state's constitutional amendment process; mandate voter identification (Californians do not have to produce an ID at polling places); bring back the "paycheck protection" proposal that keeps union members' dues away from unapproved political causes; introduce a school-choice tax-credit; and protect property owners (after the Supreme Court's ghastly Kelo decision) from eminent domain abuses. The last idea, with enthusiasts on both right and left, would be a splendid vehicle for McClintock.
Another potential player: Bruce McPherson, moderate Republican, former newspaper publisher and legislator, and the governor's appointed secretary of state. A splendid vehicle for him, should he discover higher ambitions, would be the voter identification initiative. "Voter files in most counties," warns Uhler, "are in bad shape." Indeed, voter fraud could be the sleeper issue of 2006.
I'M WITH DANA ROHRABACHER, near his district office in Huntington Beach, and we stop by a liquor store and deli owned by some Palestinian-American constituents. They want to know what's happening with their governor. Rohrabacher joshes with them, and then explains: "You know how it is. The governor will do 12 things, and 10 of them will be right." They seem placated. As we tote the falafels and gyros back to his house (where he's informally hosting, among others, a Special Forces trainer just back from Kurdistan, a nuclear scientist refugee from Romania, and Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, the virtuoso rock guitarist who's now a Defense Department adviser), I'm tempted to ask Dana to name Arnold's 10 good things. I don't bother.
Which brings us back to death row, where the governor faces clemency decisions more wrenching, but less celebrated, than Tookie Williams's. The next: a wheelchair-bound 75-year-old who needs heart surgery, a murderer who ordered three more slayings from his cell. An easy call, perhaps, for California conservatives, as I abandoned my own capital-punishment ambivalence in Tookie's case.
The governor's decision to execute the top Crip may have been clearly reasoned and uncluttered by political considerations. Perhaps even courageous: He departed, after all, from his European upbringing, with its anti-execution gestalt. Indeed, in Austria, where an athletic stadium was named for the hometown boy who made it big in America, there's a serious movement to rename it the Stanley Tookie Williams Stadion. He defied Hollywood, and probably even his wife.
But the thing is, we knew, after the Susan Kennedy fiasco, that he'd veer back right. That was scripted, triangulated. First, filling the state Supreme Court seat vacated by conservative heroine Janice Rogers Brown, picked by President Bush for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Schwarzenegger reached into the San Francisco appellate court and snagged a 57-year-old former prosecutor. Carol Corrigan is described as a moderate Republican. But the Republican right is not easily mollified by such sops, not that there's anything wrong with Judge Corrigan.
We learn now, post-Tookie, that the governor has stiffened standards for clemency. He thus joins a nationwide trend in which governors seldom overturn death penalties. The trend, certainly corresponding with, if not causing, the decline in murder rates, may please conservatives so much that it becomes a no-brainer for governors to manipulate them. That would not have been the way of Ronald Reagan, the last California governor, as it happens, to commute a death sentence. Whatever did happen to compassionate conservatism?
Logically, the new standards seem to preclude it. Even convincing evidence of death row remorse and redemption will not stay an execution. So why bother with the fiction that the governor holds such power? And why think the governor has done a good thing for conservatives, one among ten perhaps?
Increasingly, our well-muscled governor puts me in mind of Milton's Samson, who wondered:
But what is strength without a double share
Samson sought an "unfrequented place" for contemplation, a quiet venue where, having rejected predestination, he accepted that accountability accompanies free will. After the election disaster, Schwarzenegger commendably owned up to his mistaken strategy, even allowing that he should have listened to his wife.
Perhaps the governor finds such a place at the downtown Hyatt, where he's domiciled when in Sacramento, or in his personal gym. I could recommend one of my favorites, just minutes away in the Sierra foothills: Coloma. There, in 1848, on the south fork of the American River, James Marshall spotted among the rocks some nuggets of gold. He was building a timber mill for his boss, a German-Swiss immigrant named John Sutter.
American history turned on that fateful discovery; for the next few years Coloma and its environs were the center of the universe. If the Declaration of Independence warranted Americans their liberty, and Lewis and Clark paved the way, the accident at Coloma enriched Americans with a new narrative of adventure, mission, and possibility. The narrative inspired even the creation of Hollywood, which in turn inspired a young Austrian bodybuilder.
Coloma, not exactly "unfrequented" but close enough, now overlooks a state park. If the governor takes his Hummer there, he will spot an occasional tourist and the inevitable, requisite touring group of fourth-graders. Amid the stately oaks and manzanitas, standing perhaps on the wooden replica of Sutter's Mill, he can listen to clarifying waters. He can ponder how to renew the California Dream, maybe even restore it programmatically with a new emphasis on those old California values of individual freedom and responsibility.
At the very least, it's a great place for a photo-op.
K.E. Grubbs Jr. is a writer and editor in Sacramento.