ARNOLD, YOU'RE MESSING UP, BABY; WORK WITH THE DEMOCRATS - OR FAIL
by Jill Stewart
American Reporter Correspondent
SACRAMENTO -- Dear Arnold: I recently drove past that huge billboard of you as the "Terminator," that was painted on a building alongside the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles shortly before the recall election.
For the longest time, that billboard was unmarred. But now your face is scrawled with big loops of pale greenish graffiti. That, and your poll numbers, prompted me to offer a few thoughts on how to turn your Administration around.
I have three pieces of advice for you.
First, your focus should be on getting a budget passed through the legislature by early July, which is when voters start getting upset about missed budget deadlines, even though voters don't know exactly why they are so upset.
Second, you need a way to present yourself that isn't so in-your-face. Remember when you made "Twins" and "Kindergarten Cops" so the public wouldn't think of you only as a killer? Something along those lines would be good.
Third, you've got too much on your plate, babe. It's time to drop the special election idea.
Everybody knows, because of what Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said recently, that there's no real need for a special election. Even if your most pressing reform, to ban the gerrymandering of voting districts, were approved in a special November election, it almost certainly would not be ready in time for the rules to apply to the regular 2006 election. So what's the hurry?
Sure you'll get bad press if you abandon the special election. Newspapers will call you weak, Democratic leaders will crow.
But remember how Californians reacted when you apologized to the women you groped? Voters enjoy honesty from pols. Admitting mistakes is a plus for you, Arnold. And a special election in November is a mistake.
Spend your energy elsewhere. Work closely with Democratic Sen. President Pro Tem Don Perata to pass a speedy budget. Every week that you blow past the deadline, critics get to taunt you---just as they did the ineffective Gray Davis. With big unions still gathering thousands of protestors together like they did a few days ago in Sacramento, you don't need more bad press. You need results.
You also need to repair your street cred with voters. You ought to practice little talks in your mirror, so you can learn to be not quite so grating toward the voting majority in California.
Much of the Democratic-controlled legislature is still frosted with you for campaigning for President Bush in Ohio. That was your right. But when you publicly taunt Democratic legislators for their failings, you twist the partisan knife.
So why did you slam legislators the other day, saying they were giving themselves nice, unearned raises? That's a job for pundits (and technically, you were wrong because the raise was granted by a commission. Nevertheless, legislators didn't get in line to denounce the silly commission or to turn down the fat, unearned raises).
My point is, you need to get above these silly frays that drag you into the muck.
Isn't it enough that California residents agree the legislature is a disaster? Controlled by the Democrats nearly every year since 1958, the legislature enjoys an approval rating of slightly above 30 percent. Yet you twist the knife, asking voters to back your budget-capping reform because the legislature is incapable of fiscal responsibility.
That's just so 2004.
Recently, you stood up with Democratic Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles and others to praise their work reforming the prison system. Good. How about publicly praising other meaningful laws written by those well-meaning Democrats who are doing good work?
Moreover, you should start releasing a weekly tally of the Democrats you've appointed to high places and to judgeships. As I have mentioned before, most Californians have no idea you're busily creating one of the most bipartisan administrations ever. You certainly don't sound that way. So show them.
I am not suggesting you back off of reform. I agree, for example, that it's absurd for teachers with just two years' of experience to be awarded tenure. California's bizarre tenure rule protects lemons who should not even teach, and grants tenure to very green teachers who are still learning such basics as how to control their class. We're clearly backward on this issue, and other states are wise to see us as nuts.
But to sell big change, you need the people to side with you. To root for you. The other day, you admitted you've had vivid dreams in which Democratic leaders tell you your budget is "perfect." People would like to see more of this human side of you.
Pundits say all politics is local. In fact, all politics is personal. The answers to your problems, Arnold, are not contained in ballot measures headed for a special election in November. But they are hinted at by a Los Angeles freeway billboard of you, now attracting graffiti.
Voters are not ready to break up, but they are mad at you, Arnold. The key to saving a relationship is the ability to listen. But nobody, including voters, can listen when they're mad.