Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first 100 days in office

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National Public Radio (NPR) Morning Edition

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:  This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I’m Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:  And I’m Steve Inskeep.
Today is the 100th day that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been governor of California. During his campaign, he laid out an ambitious agenda for his first 100 days. So naturally people who work in and around state government have been measuring how well he’s lived up to those promises. NPR’s Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE reporting: If Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of those people who gets a feeling of warm satisfaction from crossing things off his to-do list, he probably felt pretty good during his first couple of weeks in office. First, there was the rollbacks of the car tax that he promised.

Mr. ROB STUTZMAN (Schwarzenegger Communications Director): That is a promise made, promise kept literally within minutes of being sworn into office.

JAFFE: Says Rob Stutzman, Schwarzenegger’s communications director. The governor also persuaded the Legislature to rescind a law allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, another promise kept. Stutzman says the new governor’s instant clout with the Legislature was not surprising.

Mr. STUTZMAN: I think the nature and how he was elected, which was a historic recall where people were so completely dissatisfied with government that they’d take this extraordinary step of recalling a sitting governor, also gives him a mandate and a populist appeal that the Legislature needs to be mindful of, needs to be respectful of.

JAFFE: And if it’s not, Schwarzenegger has promised he will take his agenda directly to the people in the form of ballot initiatives. Of all Schwarzenegger’s campaign promises, the top two are restoring trust in state government and solving California’s economic crisis. He spoke of both the night he was elected.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): Shall we rebuild our state together or shall we fight amongst ourselves, create even deeper division and fail the people of California? Well, let me tell you something. The answer is clear: For the people to win, politics as usual must lose. (Soundbite of applause, cheering)

JAFFE: Republicans and Democrats agree that Schwarzenegger has changed the atmosphere in Sacramento. Allan Hoffenblum is a Republican political analyst.

Mr. ALLAN HOFFENBLUM (Republican Political Analyst): The last year or two of Gray Davis‘ administration, there was nothing but intense rancor among everybody there. The Republicans hated the Democrats; the Democrats hated the Republicans. Everybody hated Gray Davis. And it just had nothing but gridlock and nothing was being done. But that has changed.

Assemblyman HERB WESSON (Democrat, Speaker Emeritus): Governor Schwarzenegger is probably one of the nicest individuals that you could ever get to meet.

JAFFE: Democratic Assemblyman Herb Wesson, the speaker emeritus, should know. He stayed night after night negotiating with the Republican governor to fashion an economic recovery plan that could be approved by a Legislature dominated by Democrats.

Assemblyman WESSON: And even though he and I have some philosophical differences, what we decided to do was to work from the things that we have in common. And when I disagree with him, I give him what for, and when he disagrees with me, he gives me what for.

JAFFE: Between them, Schwarzenegger and Wesson hammered out a deal to put two initiatives on the March 2nd ballot. Proposition 57 would allow the state to borrow up to $15 billion, mostly to pay off debt. Proposition 58 would limit future spending and establish a rainy day fund. Schwarzenegger says the measures are vital to the state’s economic future. Allan Hoffenblum says they’re vital to Schwarzenegger’s political future.

Mr. HOFFENBLUM: Because if he loses those ballot measures on March 2nd, I think it will significantly weaken him as the perception that the Democratic majority has of the power of Arnold Schwarzenegger to take issues to the people.

JAFFE: Like his efforts to fix the economy, a lot of Schwarzenegger’s promises are still works in progress, if that. He wanted to get more money for the state from Indian casinos. Those negotiations are under way. And his pledge to have the state’s books audited by an independent outsider has morphed into a government efficiency commission he has yet to appoint. But what’s truly angered his critics is his prodigious campaign fund raising. Tonight, for example, Schwarzenegger will be at an event in New York where donors have been asked to contribute up to $500,000. Doug Heller is with the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, which tracks Schwarzenegger’s fund raising on the Web site

Mr. DOUG HELLER (Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights): He’s taking money from insurance companies, HMOs, he’s taking money from the biggest developers in the state. And we’re not just talking about small contributions. We’re talking about some of the most sizable donations in the history of California politics.

JAFFE: But most of the money Schwarzenegger’s raised is for initiatives, not for his personal campaign war chest, says the governor’s communications director Rob Stutzman.

Mr. STUTZMAN: We’re very confident the voters are square on one thing, and that is Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot be bought. The man is worth millions upon millions of dollars. He doesn’t need money or support from anybody.

JAFFE: He certainly has more access than most politicians to free media. And as the governor of the nation’s most populous state, he’s asked to weigh in on all the issues of the day. On “Meet the Press” last weekend, host Tim Russert asked Schwarzenegger’s opinion about a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow foreign-born citizens to be president.

(Soundbite of “Meet the Press”)

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: Man, I should look at that because it sounds really good. I mean, are you going to help me? Come on, Tim.

Mr. TIM RUSSERT (Host, “Meet the Press”): Well…


JAFFE: Of course first, Schwarzenegger said he had a lot of work left to do in California. That’s something with which both his admirers and his critics would likely agree.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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