Governor taking case to public

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Schwarzenegger plans constant campaign mode to win support for huge bond issue.

Orange County Register (California)

Rock music blared. A TV news helicopter hovered overhead. A pair of talk radio hosts warmed up the lunchtime crowd.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s visit to a car dealership had all the trappings of a campaign trail appearance, even though he was already in office.

And that’s the plan — a governor in perpetual campaign mode.

“He derives his power from the people that sent him there in this extraordinary election,” said Rob Stutzman, Schwarzenegger’s communications director. ”He will continue to appeal to the people to help him succeed, because he has some very difficult chores ahead.”

There’s nothing new about elected officials trying to rally public support to make their case. Presidents from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush have gone on television to pressure Congress or build a case for war. The term ”perpetual campaign” was coined by observers of President Bill Clinton.

But it’s hard to find a leader who hit the road for public support so early in his term — or one who has Schwarzenegger’s star power to make it happen.

It’s also hard to find an elected official who has to work as fast.

Schwarzenegger needs two-thirds of lawmakers to approve his plan for a $15 billion bond by Dec. 5, the deadline to get a proposition on the March election ballot, a step he argues is vital to balancing the state budget. After the Thanksgiving holiday, the Legislature has just five days to meet his goal, but lawmakers are reluctant to approve such a huge plan with limited information.

To speed up the action in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger is trying to go over the heads of the Legislature and appeal directly to the public.

”The politicians up there, all they know is increase the taxes when they get into trouble,” Schwarzenegger said at the Thursday rally at a car dealership. “I need your help for that. I need you to call your legislators and say we want to have Arnold’s recovery package.”

Gov. Gray Davis might have saved his political career if he spent more time among ordinary Californians, said state Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, but it takes more than getting people excited to run California.

”We’re back to the tedium and the complex work of the budget process,” Dunn said. ”The details aren’t very interesting to the average person in California. That’s why they elect people to deal with problems.”

Dunn said he hasn’t seen a groundswell of outrage at lawmakers yet from Schwarzenegger’s rally and four talk-show appearances.

”Zero calls as of today,” Dunn said Friday.

One cost of constant campaigning is constant fund raising. Schwarzenegger and his supporters have organized several events to help finance future initiatives and repay a $4 million loan that he gave his campaign.

”It takes $1 million to get an initiative on the ballot and a lot more to get it passed,” said Assemblyman John Campbell, R-Irvine, a Schwarzenegger supporter.

Republican activist Buck Johns said he was invited to a Dec. 10 fund-raiser in Irvine’s Shady Canyon community.

”I don’t know what the price is, but there aren’t going to be any cheap tickets,” Johns said.

Other events include a Dec. 3 fund-raiser in Sacramento hosted by Stockton developer Alex Spanos, who also owns the San Diego Chargers. Admission starts at $500, but donors of $21,200 — the maximum allowed by law — get to have their photo taken with the governor.

Critics say the fund raising makes it hard for Schwarzenegger to uphold his promises not to take money from special interests.

They note that Schwarz enegger staged the Thursday rally at Galpin Ford, owned by Bert Boeckmann, whose family gave more than $52,000 to Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial campaign and inauguration ceremony.

”That affair was as much an ad for a campaign donor as a meeting,” said Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica watchdog group.

Schwarzenegger is trying to mobilize public support for several initiatives — a repeal of the law granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, workers’ compensation reforms and a constitutional amendment for a state spending cap.

Some supporters warn that the governor will dilute his popularity if he turns to the people too frequently. Others expect Schwarzenegger to keep clamoring for attention and support to accomplish his goals.

”Perhaps after Arnold solves problems, people will go back to their ski trips and wine tasting and TV or whatever,” said George Gorton, Schwarzenegger’s campaign strategist and currently an unpaid adviser to the governor.

”But Arnold isn’t there to be an administrator. He went to make major changes.”
Contact the author: (714) 796-7969 or [email protected]

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