CAN ARNOLD AND BILL STOP THE SACRAMENTO MADNESS?
by Jill Stewart
American Reporter Correspondent
SACRAMENTO -- Okay, we know he's not using a police-chauffeured Hummer - it's a Lincoln Navigator. We know he cheerily tossed his huge arm around his potential enemy, Democratic Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson. We know he ate the same salmon dish at a Sacramento restaurant that oddball Gov. Gray Davis ate every day.
What we don't know, after watching him shore up the spirits of blaze-weary firefighters, is how on earth Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to lead a wildly partisan legislature through another godawful effort to yank California out of a budget quagmire and put some zip back in its step.
This year's budget was stuck together with the fiscal equivalent of gummi bears. Some analysts say that up to $13 billion of the "solution" could be ruled illegal. Now add the Southern California fires, the costliest disaster in state history. Before these developments, the 2004 deficit was expected to rise to $10 billion because the legislature and Davis failed to sufficiently slash programs or raise taxes. If Schwarzenegger rolls back $4 billion in new car taxes, what are we looking at?
California is peering at a $14 billion to $27 billion deficit for the fiscal year starting in July.
Of course, the new guv is taking action Davis lacked the stomach for. He instantly hired frighteningly efficient budget-cutter Donna Arduin away from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He caught hell for bringing in maverick yapper Warren Buffett, but billionaire Buffett and others are cooking up ways to cut the horrific interest California pays on huge debts. Schwarzenegger is pressing President Bush for billions to cover the annual net loss from state welfare programs for illegal immigrants who work for cash and avoid taxes. The Democrat-controlled legislature is returning from vacation at Schwarzenegger's request to try to actually end the workers compensation crisis. (Davis signed watered-down bills that make only modest fixes.)
But Arnold's fancy plans are all fairy dust if the Democratic legislature battles him, as they tragically did Davis. As a Radical Centrist who is ashamed of my own Democratic Party in California, I know that only those who embrace non-partisanship can help the governor-elect.
Enter, strangely enough, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
Lockyer is a highly partisan Democrat. With the recall, I expected him to become a belligerent, balding, Katherine Harris II. She was the Republican Florida Secretary of State who, during the Bush vs. Gore struggle, was so partisan and snotty that she stoked the bitterness Democrats nurse even today.
But Lockyer did not fulfill my low expectations of him.
Lockyer resisted all sorts of Democratic mischief. He opined that California law does not say the lieutenant governor becomes governor after a recall. He said a new governor must be elected simultaneously. He said Davis could not run as a candidate against himself. He fought five efforts to delay the vote.
"I take pride in having done it as a lawyer who obeys the law," Lockyer tells me.
One day, Lockyer publicly warned Davis not to use the incredibly negative "puke politics" he employed to win in 2002. Stunned, I called some insiders who told me Lockyer was changing. He was a new father who wanted a better world. He was sick of Democrats prevailing at any cost.
After the recall, Lockyer dropped a bombshell: he'd voted against the recall but for Republican Schwarzenegger, embracing Arnold's message of change.
Lockyer, who dined with Schwarzenegger Oct. 22, tells me he said: "Stay on the bipartisan road, and you don't have to prove you love labor, but don't go out of your way to publicly hate them. I told him very specific things about the procurement system, contracting and budgeting. Arnold is a quick study."
The epic fires give Schwarzenegger more political room to maneuver. The one reason candidate Schwarzenegger said he might raise taxes was a massive disaster. Ta-daaah. Huge, new taxes? No, but perhaps modest ones - after big cuts are made.
Even with the firestorms as an excuse, taxes will not be Schwarzenegger's answer to the California conundrum. He has heard the message that the common man is aroused and furious - not merely in California.
On Oct. 23, CNN reported that 89 percent of Americans feel the U.S. Senate does not deserve a raise. Liberal Seattleites just rejected an espresso tax to pay for social services. Oregonians refused higher taxes and are living instead with measures like closing schools extra days. In religious Alabama, a "What would Jesus do?" campaign to tax the rich to support the poor was annihilated by voters.
Americans everywhere see government failing in its core assignment. Highways are not maintained, budgets are not met, smog grows worse.
People are willing to pay - but not for such as this.
Schwarzenegger caught the wave. And with a possible assist from very unexpected quarters, he will try to ride it in.
Visit Jill Stewartat www.jillstewart.net. She is a tv, radio and print commentator on California politics.