Bipartisan aura fades as Schwarzenegger finishes first year

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Sacramento Bee

Arnold Schwarzenegger assumed the governorship nearly a year ago on a pledge remarkably similar to George W. Bush’s promise in 2000 that if elected president, he would be “a uniter, not a divider.”

Republican Schwarzenegger’s version was that coming from outside politics, he could forge good working relationships with Democrats on knotty problems such as the deficit-saturated state budget. “Working together” became his mantra.

A symbol of Schwarzenegger bipartisanship was his friendship with the Legislature’s most influential Democrat, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, who had openly disdained recalled Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, but responded warmly to Schwarzenegger – a relationship enhanced by Burton’s personal interest in movies.

The bipartisanship was enhanced, too, by the many Democrats around him, including first lady Maria Shriver, environmentalist Bonnie Reiss and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg.

At some point during the summer, however, the atmosphere began to change. Schwarzenegger began dueling with Democrats over aspects of the state budget, whose passage was delayed several weeks, and publicly castigated Democratic lawmakers as “girlie men” for not bucking unions and other liberal interest groups.

The governor’s relationship with Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez soured over several issues, including a stalemate over driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. Latino leaders accused Schwarzenegger of reneging on a promise to sign a revised licensure bill. And Schwarzenegger began raising money and campaigning for Republican legislative candidates, including some challenging Democratic incumbents.

Some Schwarzenegger advisers say the governor’s disenchantment began when Democrats did not reciprocate his unilateral concessions on the budget. And the partisan battle lines were etched even deeper after the legislative session ended, with Schwarzenegger delivering a speech at the Republican National Convention in which he repeated his now-famous “girlie men” line, promising to veto high-profile Democratic bills (including a new version of immigrant licensure) and staking out pro-business positions on November ballot measures – an ideological posture he accentuated Friday by naming a very conservative panel of economic advisers.

As Schwarzenegger paddles his canoe to the right, Democratic sniping is also escalating. For example, Steve Maviglio, who was Davis’ press secretary, is now on Nunez’s payroll, issuing regular e-mail critiques of Schwarzenegger. One recent missive: “With a little more than two weeks left in bill-signing season, it’s interesting that the governor hasn’t brought in that smoke machine he used in Las Vegas last month and employed it for announcements of legislative accomplishments. That’s because the smoke machine is gathering dust for a reason: the governor has precious little to tout. Compared to past administrations – both Republican and Democratic – the governor has had few initiatives in this legislative session.”

The drumbeat about Schwarzenegger’s campaign fund raising is also picking up, with some critics accusing him of reneging on taking money from special interest groups. Said one persistent critic, consumer advocate and “ArnoldWatch” operator Jamie Court: “In less than one week, Arnold has managed to renounce every vow he’s taken to the people of California to keep big money and big policy separate in the governor’s office.”

The rap is a bit unfair; Schwarzenegger only said that he didn’t need the money and specified two groups from which he would not accept contributions, public employee unions and casino-owning Indian tribes, because he would be involved in direct negotiations with them – a ban he’s since expanded to other groups. And so far, no one’s demonstrated any Schwarzenegger quid pro quo for contributions, a syndrome that plagued Davis.

Nevertheless, recent events imply that when the Legislature returns to Sacramento in January, the era of camaraderie may have passed – especially if Republicans have also gained a few legislative seats with Schwarzenegger’s help. And he may regret not having accomplished more, especially on the budget, during the honeymoon.
Reach Dan Walters at (916) 321-1195 or [email protected]

Consumer Watchdog
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