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True Lies

The Schwarzenegger model of success isn't coming to Washington any time soon.

11:00 PM, Nov 19, 2006 • By BILL WHALEN
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4. Party Building. President Bush stumped nationwide for GOP candidates, just as Nancy Pelosi did for Democrats. That's what leaders do--they try to tilt the political balance to their party's advantage. Although he did invest in GOP "get out the vote" efforts such as mailers and phone banks, the Governator carefully avoided most chances to appear in public with other Republican hopefuls. Shortly before the election, at a campaign stop in Stockton, Schwarzenegger was asked if he supported the soon-to-be-ousted Richard Pombo. Arnold's response: "That is a federal issue." It was a major departure from the November 2004 election, when he stumped up and down the state for GOP candidates. Schwarzenegger didn't even deign to record "robo" phone messages for Republican candidates (even Clint Eastwood did one for the incumbent California Secretary of State). Arnold campaigned for himself and his five bond measures, all five of which passed. Republicans didn't fare so well, losing five of the six statewide offices.

5. Media Climate. George H.W. Bush didn't flat-out accuse the media of bias when he was president, but he liked to joke that if he walked on water, the next day's headline would read: "Bush Can't Swim". His son has it even worse--though, in fairness, some of it is self-inflicted. Media bias is not a problem for Arnold Schwarzenegger--reporters like him; he's good copy. In last fall's special election, Arnold got bad reviews when he campaigned for conservative-oriented ideas (spending controls, paycheck protection). Not surprisingly, since Arnold went left of center, supporting ideas and concepts the media like (minimum-wage boost, global warming, pot shots at the Bush presidency) it's been all thumbs-up. If you think personality doesn't matter, suppose what would happen if George W. Bush did as Arnold and signed a global-warming bill. The coverage with be chock full of words like "pander," "concede," "capitulate."

The bottom line: bipartisanship works in California because, for all its glitz and glamour, it's a zero-sum game in terms of lasting political effect. Democrats decided to work with a popular Republican governor only after they realized his popularity didn't threaten their control of the Legislature. Schwarzenegger has twice swept his way to victory, yet he's likely to leave office having done little to transform California's political landscape. Unlike the 1980s, when "Alex P. Keaton" Republicans emerged (first-time voters who registered GOP because it seemed the trendy thing to do), there is no similar ripple effect in California. Two Schwarzenegger landslides have not resulted in a land rush toward the California Republican Party.

If anything, California's vaunted bipartisanship will soon be put to the test--make that, a series of tests. The state faces a $5 billion deficit. A strong economy may produce enough revenue to fill the hole, which is what happened this year. If not, the choices are spending cuts or higher taxes. Both the governor and the Legislature want to enact healthcare reform, yet neither side can agree on its scope or the means of financing. Other headaches loom: overcrowded prisons and overflowing pension costs being but two problems that were conveniently sidestepped this past year.

Can bipartisanship continue to reign supreme? Time will tell which climate is the real California: a summer of love or a winter of discontent.

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he follows California and national politics.