How Arnold Schwarzenegger
balances the interests of business and society will be the biggest
challenge of the gubernatorial career he begins today. These weblogs
will chronicle that balancing act and arnoldwatch.org will be devoted
to watching the hidden hand of special interests in the Schwarzenegger
Elected as the man of the people, Arnold is now acting more like the man of the big-business people.
Schwarzenegger promised to clean house of special interest influence in
Sacramento, yet he recently appointed the Chamber of Commerce’s chief
lobbyist Richard Costigan as his legislative secretary, the filter for
every bill going to his desk. His chief of staff is a former HMO
The governor-elect may be receiving praise for his appointment of an
environmentalist to head the California Environmental Protection Agency
(Cal EPA), but it is big-business people who hold the keys to his
cabinet and signature.
As important, Cal EPA has limited staff and its under-secretary is an
executive from Pacific Lumber. The true environmental power resides
with the independent boards beneath Cal EPA and many of those
appointments are expected to go to Chamber loyalists.
That would explain why Arnold was the first candidate for any
constitutional office that the Chamber of Commerce has endorsed in over
100 years. It’s also probably a reason the Chamber is treating for the
"free lunch" at Schwarzenegger’s inauguration. The public cannot even
get into the inauguration, but seats are reserved for Arnold’s biggest
boosters, including many from the local chambers.
The governor elect would argue it’s merely a matter of definitions.
According to Schwarzenegger, special interests are only native American
tribes and labor unions, not the Chamber of Commerce and the big
businesses it represents.
So who is of real interest to Arnold? You would know if you could pay
$21,200 to join Arnold in an LA King’s luxury box at his December 4th
fundraiser. It’s those who can afford to pay.
The problem is that after today’s inauguration Schwarzenegger’s
definitions will become California’s and the governor-elect speaks the
language of the Chamber of Commerce.
Arnold’s policy papers are all about getting the regulators, the
legislators, and the litigators off big business’s back. Return to
electricity deregulation. Stop the bureaucratic mandates on business.
Terminate the job killer bills.
This is the same old rant that the Chamber has made with increasing
arrogance for the last two decades and that led society to the pinnacle
of free market madness that was Enron.
What’s frightening is Arnold’s uber-brand may be big enough to erase
all those lessons and legitimize the man of the corporation as nothing
less than a populist brand.
The Chamber has long sought to re-brand its consumer and societal
takeaways — including restricted legal rights, fewer workplace
protections and reduced state regulation — as populist, even
pro-consumer, by claiming, for example, that their policies would lower
the cost of products.
As one major think tank explained, such perception management could
make "the rhetoric of liability reform incorporate transcending
concepts like consumer choice, fairness and equity."
Arnold’s real threat is that he can possibly make such mumbo-jumbo fly
based on the same branding principles that won him the governorship.
Promoting the most verifiable, but least credible promise is the
quintessential marketing formula, and Arnold knows it well. People like
"100% Satisfaction Guaranteed" because it sounds too verifiable to lie
about. The equivalent promise in a campaign for governor is "sweeping
special interests out of government while making it business-friendly",
or "balancing the budget without raising taxes or cutting programs."
Arnold’s coming out as governor is not so much of an inauguration as
the launching of a new super brand for big business. The Chamber will
have a new shaman to make their old agenda transcendental.
It won’t be business as usual in the capitol, but business as never
before, on steroids if you will. Arnold will re-brand electricity
deregulation with a greener veneer. There will be plenty of privacy
protections, for the corporations that is. The Chamber’s planned ballot
initiative to end public interest group lawsuits that prevent corporate
deceptions might find a new mascot.
The only thing to stand in the way of Arnold redefining the
corporation’s place is the dictionary. Webster’s defines special
interest this way: "noun. a person or group seeking to influence
legislative or government policy to further often narrowly defined
interests; especially lobby."
Actors may lie for a living, but as governor, Arnold’s words must ring
true. ArnoldWatch will hold Governor Schwarzenegger accountable to his
own promises and make certain that there is some truth in advertising.