Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Saturday Column: Whither now the governator?

If, as a noted English writer once said the past is prologue, then we can perhaps guess the future course of Schwarzenegger's newest initiatives.

In Thursday's State of the State address, the Republican governor outlined a series of proposals that would make any self-respecting Democrat weep with joy, including proposals to limit tuition fees for the state's universities, raise the minimum wage, and most ambitiously, to float a massive public works bond to shore up Califonia's woefully inadequate transportation systems.

I'll, no doubt, have more to say on all of these proposals as they near either fruition or failure in the coming year, but at the moment I wanted to look at their political implications.

Let's look at the Governator's record.

In the 2003 recall election which saw Arnold's ascent to the pinnacle of California politics featured promises of bi-partisanship and an end of the pay to play mindset so devastating to Gray Davis' career. And while the promise not to accept money from special inteests proved as specious as anyone paying attention to modern American politics would expect it to be, Arnold held largely to his pledge of bipartisan co-operation regarding the most important of his then proposals, the bond issue restructuring California's debt situation.

Well and good.

Then something funny happened.

Around the time of the 2004 Republican National Convention, someone (contributors no doubt) reminded Arnold that he is a Republican. His glowing support for Bush at the convention was inevitable if he was going to garner a a coveted primetime speaking spot, as was, no doubt, his support in the ensuing presidential campaign. But going further, he infuriated California Democrats by actively campaigning against them, including some who had bought Schwarzenegger's "spirit of bi-partisanship" rhetoric and supported his proposals.

Then in 2005 the other shoe, inevitably, dropped. The governator's State of the state message was a shot across the bow of Democrats and their supporters, as well as manna from heavan (to mix metaphors) for the very right wing California Republican party. Why this shift to the right?

To me, anyway, the answer is not entirely clear. Were Schwarzenegger's proposals to strike at a major Democratic constituency, unions, merely a reflection of Schwarzenegger's own pro-business tendancies (as well as his chamber of commerce type supporters)? Or was it a cynical ploy to shore up his Republican base (and build an enormous campaign war chest), anticipating this year's election year swing back to the center?

In the end I suppose it doesn't really matter, as we've now enough information to make an educated guess as to what Schwarzenegger's next year and his new administration (if re-elected) will look like.

My prognostication.

2006 will see Schwarzenegger making furious efforts to pass his proposed initiatives, his success to be determined largely by the political calculations made by the Democrat controlled legislature. Sacramento Democrats face a choice. Do they support the governor's proposals in an effort to show themselves as working in that much vaunted bi-partisan spirit? Do they kill the governor's proposals by either blocking them outright (unlikely) or by tacking on provisions (e.g. pro-union) that will prove impossible for Arnold to swallow?

My guess is that, after an enormous amount of horse-trading, relatively bi-partisan proposals will either be passed by Sacramento, or make it successfully to the ballot as initiatives.

I (for now) make no guesses as to the success of such ballot initiatives, but should he be re-elected one thing seems clear, expect Schwarzenegger to make another hard right turn. In 2007/8 he'll be looking to shore up (yet again) the Republican faithful and repay his campaign debts and prep himself (yet again) for the national spotlight of the 2008 Republican convention where the support of of a "moderate" Republican governor will (yet again) be coveted as a mask for the Republican party's wingnut true inner self.

California Democrats and independents are faced then with this choice: are the benefits of supporting Arnold's current proposals for a tuition freeze, increased minimum wage, and urgently needed infrastructure support worth the wingnut causes he'll no doubt espouse once re-elected?

And California Republicans face a similar choice, can they bite their tongues long enough to help Schwarzenegger get re-elected, counting on getting their due in 2007/8?

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