Action figure: Energetic and charismatic, the state’s new governor has earned high marks from across the political spectrum

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Much of his agenda a work in progress

Sacramento Bee

When Arnold Schwarzenegger took the stage at Sacramento Memorial Auditorium last fall, announcing 10 goals for his first 100 days in office and declaring, “We are ready to take action!” it went down as one of the brassier performances in California politics.

He hadn’t yet been elected governor, and his checklist was heavy on items that had eluded his predecessors.

With Tuesday marking his 100th day on the job, the actor swept into office in the state’s unprecedented recall election has completed three of those goals.

Others are works in progress, while two – expanding public access to government and selling lawmakers on midyear spending cuts – haven’t gotten out of the starting gate. He’s also had to reverse some plans for saving money and cleaning up his bad-boy Hollywood reputation.

In his debut, though, the energetic Schwarzenegger has cut a wide swath at the Capitol, beyond his progress on paper or his 10-point plan. His commanding social skills – striking when measured against his ousted predecessor, Gray Davis – have earned him high marks.

“It goes way beyond what (Ronald) Reagan was able to do in communicating and reaching out to everyone across the board,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at the University of Southern California.

Schwarzenegger is “still the action figure who was going to change the culture in Sacramento,” Regalado said. “He’s still the 500-pound gorilla.”

Sworn in on Nov. 17, Schwarzenegger immediately set to work on his list of 10 goals.

He rolled back increased annual vehicle license fees, adding $4 billion to the state’s shortfall but saving voters money in the short term. He got lawmakers to repeal an unpopular law giving undocumented residents driver’s licenses. And he launched an audit of the state budget and froze much discretionary spending.

Other goals were out of reach.

He had pledged to submit a plan to eliminate the budget deficit and restructure the state’s debt. But the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office says the plan leaves the state short for the foreseeable future.

Schwarzenegger beat up on labor unions and Indian casinos during the recall campaign, but he has yet to persuade state employee unions to renegotiate their contracts or get casino operators to share more money with the state.

On workers’ compensation, Republican and Democratic lawmakers are divided over what reforms will reduce rates but sufficiently protect injured workers.

“The governor is certainly doing his part,” said his communications director, Rob Stutzman. “Sometimes it’s incumbent upon other parties, whether it be the Legislature or a gaming tribe or public employees union, to negotiate.”

These are areas on which Schwarzenegger took Davis to task during the recall campaign. At the time, Davis and his supporters used the same defense, arguing that there was only so much a governor could do unless the Legislature was willing to go along.

Sending more money to public school classrooms, passing an open-government amendment and banning political fund-raising during the budget process also are goals that must run their course through the legislative process or go before voters. They cannot be done simply by executive order.

And some Democratic lawmakers say they’re not going to jump just because Schwarzenegger thinks they should. They balked at his original plans for a spending cap and bond and are still angry about the car tax rollback.

“He seems to be setting a record for wanting to aggrandize more power in the executive branch and diminish the power in the Legislature,” said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica. “He’s very cool, very gregarious, very energetic and hard-working. I think he means to govern the state and not to unravel it. But I think he needs to respect the balance of powers more and not just run off on his own. That’s not how the balance of power works in America.”

Despite Schwarzenegger’s call for campaign finance reform, he is raising millions of dollars during the current budget season to promote a bond campaign to which his political future is tied.

On his 100th day in office, Schwarzenegger is scheduled to appear at a Manhattan fund-raiser, where donors have been asked to contribute up to $500,000 to support the California bond deal.

Since taking office, his raising millions of dollars from corporate interests at a rate that surpasses Davis’ has drawn a drumbeat of criticism from California Common Cause and the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

However, polling shows a majority of likely voters – 61 percent, according to the latest Public Policy Institute of California survey – approve of the job Schwarzenegger is doing.

Schwarzenegger also struggled with some false starts. Barraged by reports of trouble in the prison system, he backed off initial plans to put the independent Office of the Inspector General under the prison agency it was supposed to be overseeing. He now wants to keep it independent and beef up its budget.

He also reversed course after proposing scaling back some protections for developmentally disabled people because of budget constraints.

“When new facts are brought to his attention, he reassesses the information and is willing to change his mind,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. “That’s good. It shows he’s got enough confidence in himself to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to change my mind on that,’ without being worried someone’s going to say, ‘Hey, he’s a waffler.’ “

Choosing his own instinct over conventional wisdom, Schwarzenegger scrapped early plans to hire an investigator to look into allegations he had groped women in years past. Californians would rather have him focused on solving the state’s problems, he said.

Using a combination of star power, gregariousness, optimism, popularity with voters and negotiating skills honed in Hollywood, Schwarzenegger has adeptly courted Democratic leaders to further his political goals, most notably getting them to support Propositions 57 and 58 on the March 2 ballot. He hopes to convince voters to support the $15 billion bond proposal, and the companion balanced budget initiative, to refinance the state’s deficit and free up cash in the short term. If the ballot measures fail, he and lawmakers could be forced to consider deep program cuts and tax increases.

He tapped state Controller Steve Westly to be the Democratic face of the bond campaign, appearing alongside him in public appearances and television ads; other top Democrats got on board, fearing consequences for the poor and voter backlash.

Conservative Republicans don’t want to extend the state’s debt but aren’t willing to wage war against their own governor just yet. Besides, many say, they like him.

“I think everyone wants him to succeed and everyone’s pulling for him,” said state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, who ran against Schwarzenegger in the recall election. “If he fails, California fails.”

Schwarzenegger uses a carrot-stick-and-smile approach, at once charming and frightening potential adversaries to the bargaining table.

He invites lawmakers from both parties to join him for cigars outside his office. He made a special trip to Southern California to dedicate the gymnasium at Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez’s daughter’s school.

When he wants to see Burton, a Democrat and the most powerful lawmaker at the Capitol, he’ll often pay him respect by going to the senator’s office, rather than summoning Burton downstairs.

But Schwarzenegger waves the recall in lawmakers’ faces as he deems necessary, setting himself up as the teacher and them as his pupils.

Days after taking office, he threatened “severe casualties” for lawmakers who opposed his budget fixes. After getting their attention, he changed course, inviting them to campaign with him in their districts.

Schwarzenegger has vowed to go directly to voters on a workers’ compensation fix if lawmakers don’t send him a compromise by March 1. He would likely be looking at a November ballot.

He taunts that he has the power to turn the public against lawmakers who challenge him.

“If I would have put all of them on the ballot, they all would have been recalled – that’s the reality of it,” he told the Sacramento Press Club this month, in a rare question-and-answer session with political reporters. “So now, they have learned from that. Now, they are working together.”

Schwarzenegger’s crucial tests will come after the first 100 days. On the March 2 bond package, a “yes” vote would solidify his power. If it fails, he could lose leverage with lawmakers and voters alike. Then there’s this year’s budget debate and a call to retool a scandal-plagued prison system.

Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute of California said Schwarzenegger holds a great deal of power but is still learning how to manage it.

“I don’t think you can really compare these 100 days to any other governor’s 100 days because no other governor has ever come into office through a recall,” Baldassare said. “We rarely see a governor anywhere with the communication skills this governor has, and he has made the most of his opportunity.

“But I think he’s also learning it takes time to change public policy.”

Highlights of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s first 100 days in office.

Nov. 17
Takes oath of office at the Capitol; immediately rolls back an increase in the vehicle license fee.

Nov. 18
Proposes $15 billion bond measure for the March ballot; calls for $2 billion in midyear budget cuts. Proposes slashing $11.3 billion in costs from the workers’ compensation system.

Nov. 20
Threatens “severe casualties” in March and November elections if lawmakers fight his economic plans.

Nov. 24
Details $1.9 billion in cuts, including reductions to college outreach programs, developmentally disabled people and doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients.

Dec. 3
Signs bill to repeal law that would have let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses.

Dec. 5
Lawmakers fail to meet his midnight deadline for placing bond measure and spending restrictions on March ballot.

Dec. 8
Reversing field, decides against initiating an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him, despite promising to do so before the recall election.

Dec. 12
Reaches a deal with Democrats in the Assembly and signs a revised budget plan that places a $15 billion bond measure on the March 2 ballot.

Dec. 17
Backs off plans to suspend a guarantee of services to developmentally disabled people.

Dec. 18
Announces plan to unilaterally repay cities and counties for money lost to the vehicle license fee rollback, a move the state’s nonpartisan fiscal analyst later calls a “flagrant misuse” of state law.

Dec. 23
Leaves with his family for 12-day ski vacation in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Jan. 6
In first State of the State address, promises a review of state government organization, a predictable college fee system that could limit annual increases to 10 percent, and a plan to consolidate categorical programs to increase local control of school spending.

Jan. 7
Appoints Daniel Kolkey to negotiate new compacts with tribal gambling interests.

Jan. 9
Proposes $99 billion budget plan that cuts social service programs, takes money from local governments and limits reductions to schools to $2 billion.

Jan. 16
Launches campaign to pass Propositions 57 and 58, his “fiscal recovery plan” on the March ballot that trails in statewide polls.

Jan. 26
A Sacramento judge orders Schwarzenegger to stop raising money to repay a $4.5 million bank loan to his recall election campaign account, saying that it’s likely the financing maneuver will be ruled illegal

Jan. 27
Labels court decision “fantastic” and says he always intended to repay the loan himself, despite weeks of comments to the contrary from his staff. Also promises to supply information on the effect of state layoffs on services “whether it is legally required or not,” but staff refuses to do so. Says he will seek a workers’ compensation ballot measure for the November ballot if lawmakers don’t deliver a plan by March 1.

Jan. 30
Denies clemency for condemned murderer Kevin Cooper.

Feb. 2
Announces he’ll appoint a special commission to study corruption and violence at state prisons and youthful offender facilities.

Feb. 10
Announces hiring of Billy Hamilton, a nationally recognized expert from Texas, to direct a commission charged with recommending ways to cut government waste.

Feb. 20
Intervenes in the controversy over gay marriage, asking Attorney General Bill Lockyer to take legal steps to stop San Francisco from issuing wedding licenses to same-sex couples.
The Bee’s Margaret Talev can be reached at (916) 326-5540 or [email protected]
Gary Delsohn of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

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