|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, November 15, 2004
Sacramento Bee 11-14-04
Analysis: Flair for surprise keeps him in the catbird seat
On the day after the election, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger swelled with satisfaction when a reporter told him his philosophy had been "kind of hard to read" during the campaign season.
"It will be hard for you to read in the future, not just in the season, trust me," Schwarzenegger quipped.
After a year on the job, a milestone he marks Wednesday, the Republican governor with libertarian leanings and a Democratic wife is in many ways as hard to pin down as he when took office as a movie star with no political record.
His pattern of siding with the state Chamber of Commerce aside, Schwarzenegger's unpredictability has emerged as one of the few things supporters and critics alike have come to count on - and as his favorite method of endearing himself to voters.
"He's really hard to pigeonhole," said Bill Leonard, a Republican and a member of the state Board of Equalization, who explored Schwarzenegger's libertarian bent in his newsletter, "The Leonard Letter."
"That's the Capitol's favorite guessing game, trying to put him in a box or figure out who he is most like," Leonard said. "And the truth is, we really don't know."
Aides cringe as they anticipate what might spring next from the 57-year-old governor's mouth.
He can be dignified, even statesmanlike, as in his speech at the Republican National Convention this summer about his immigrant success story. Or he can be crass, like last month, when he told former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta in a public forum that his wife, Maria Shriver, withheld sex for two weeks as punishment for his support of President Bush.
Schwarzenegger's policy stances, likewise, veer from right to left and back, and often contradict one another.
Schwarzenegger championed the repeal of an immigrant driver's license law unpopular with many mainstream voters, then made overtures about supporting a version with tighter security provisions, infuriating conservatives, then sent mixed signals, then vetoed a bill that didn't satisfy his concerns.
He opposed most policies that impeded big business, such as a min imum wage increase and mandatory health insurance for large companies, but approved stiffer regulations on cruise ships, auto emissions and pesticides.
Then, despite contrary advice from his environmental secretary, he backed a campaign to limit unfair-competition lawsuits against businesses - often filed by environmental groups - even though his own lawyers had sued businesses under the same law to protect his financial interests.
He vetoed bills aimed at preventing most job outsourcing, but lobbied Capitol Hill to stem runaway film production. He mandated HMO coverage of child asthma but opposed mandates on maternity coverage. He vetoed Canadian prescription drug legislation, saying it went against federal policy. But he signed a measure letting hybrid car owners drive unaccompanied in car-pool lanes, though the provisions need a waiver to work within federal law.
He's paroled many more killers than his immediate Democratic and Republican predecessors, but in the last week of the campaign he led the effort that defeated Proposition 66, a measure aimed at weakening the state's "three-strikes" sentencing law.
He surrounds himself with an unusually diverse group of policy and communications advisers, many Democrats and independents, who offer conflicting advice on still-unresolved debates, such as whether to provide undocumented workers with driver's licenses.
His aides include Christian conservatives, abortion-rights proponents, all-around moderates, laissez-faire economists, labor leaders, environmental activists, traditional political types, and Hollywood producers and publicists.
"I keep hearing about all these divisions in the staff, there's the right-wingers and the left-wingers and the middle-wingers," said his chief of staff, Pat Clarey. "But I run a pretty open operation.
"It's not, 'Let's have the Republicans talk to him about a certain issue.' We do everything together. Everybody comes from a different angle, but we're all trying to get to where Arnold wants to get."
There is at times a tense atmosphere inside "the horseshoe" of executive office suites - a creeping resentment among some Republicans of the liberal influence of the governor's closest confidants, his Kennedy family wife and the couple's longtime friend Bonnie Reiss, a former Hollywood lawyer and producer and an environmental and women's activist.
Schwarzenegger's promise to end partisan warfare outside his administration, meanwhile, is one he sometimes embraces and other times abandons.
He backed a failed bid to let voters pick primary election candidates regardless of party.
But he called Democratic lawmakers "girlie men" and "losers." He tried to unseat Democrats in the Legislature, and campaigned for Bush.
Still, he repeatedly went against fellow Republicans on social issues - stem cell research, gun control, legal protections for cross-dressers, hypodermic needle sales for drug users. And he made friends of Democrats, including state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, showing GOP lawmakers they need him more than Schwarzenegger needs them.
Schwarzenegger promised to stop the state from spending more than it takes in. But in March he got voters to approve $15 billion in bonds to cover overspending and a projected shortfall. He called it a one-time fix, to avoid tax increases or deep cuts, and promised to cut up the state's credit card. Then he backed Proposition 71, a taxpayer-backed bond measure to fund $3 billion in private stem cell research.
He scaled back the state's annual vehicle license fee, saving some car owners hundreds of dollars, but vetoed a so-called Car Buyer's Bill of Rights that aimed to save buyers more in hidden fees and inflated interest rates.
It's foolhardy for any constituency to presume to know where Schwarzenegger stands.
His comfort level with gay culture dates to his early bodybuilding fan base and years in Hollywood. But when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, in defiance of state law, the governor moved to stop him and played up his response at a state GOP convention.
A week later, Schwarzenegger had a different message for a younger, more liberal audience. On "The Tonight Show," he said he was fine with gay marriage if state voters approved it. Months later, he told a voter who pressed for his opinion, "I don't care one way or the other."
Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said Schwarzenegger has made an art form of the gubernatorial balancing act that former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown compared to paddling a canoe, both to left and to the right. "There's this constant juggling act - the stem-cell endorsement and then he'll come back and fight against the 'three-strikes' revision," Cain said.
"He's stayed charmingly inconsistent and unpredictable, and he's kept enough Democrats in his coalition for a longer period of time than any governor in California ... since Earl Warren. It's his willingness to be a very different kind of Republican in a state that's traditionally had by-the-books Republicans."
But sometimes, Cain said, "you do get the feeling there's a demagogue in there, that he's a person who says what he thinks the people want to hear."
Schwarzenegger promised to curtail the influence of special-interest donors. Yet to take on Indian tribes, labor unions and trial lawyers, he had other special interests to bankroll him: oil and insurance, developers, the auto and financial services industries. Through his California Recovery Team committee, he's raised millions of dollars more from special interests than any predecessor in the first year in office. In speeches, Schwarzenegger continues to call on voters to join his fight to change the closed-door, donor-driven politics he says has corrupted government. But he has required appointees - including those working on a plan to overhaul state government - to sign confidentiality agreements.
On Saturday, during his trade mission to Japan, he said he would soon release his daily schedule to the public.
Voters believe in him as strongly as ever, and his approval ratings stand at an enviable 65 percent.
This frustrates critics and potential challengers to no end.
"The one thing people should come away with, this year, with this governor, is it doesn't matter what he says, but what he does," said Democrat Phil Angelides, state treasurer and a likely candidate for governor in 2006.
"He said he'd drive special interests away from the Capitol, but he's let them into the temple like never before. He said he'd balance the budget, but he balanced a budget with (billions) in new borrowing."
Schwarzenegger faces another shortfall of at least $6 billion in his second year.
Even so, as he looks ahead, perhaps even considers whether to run again, some Democrats who opposed him a year ago say he's offered them enough since to keep them open-minded.
Ken Rau, a 53-year-old equal-opportunity employment investigator from Yuba City, didn't appreciate Schwarzenegger's campaigning for Bush but is impressed by the governor's signing of ocean-protection bills.
"He sort of fits my mold," Rau said. "I'm fiscally conservative, pro-environment, and the gay rights thing I don't care about one way or another."
Rau says Schwarzenegger's biggest failing so far is using bonds to fend off the budget crisis but said he might become a bona fide supporter if the governor can finesse a more substantive fix next year through the Legislature - ideally by mixing program cuts with temporary tax increases.
"You can't put it all one way or the other," Rau said. "It really is a balancing act."
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