Schwarzenegger makes inroads despite some broken promises
The San Diego Union-Tribune
SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is overflowing with compliments.
He publicly praises the press. He praises state workers. He praises political rivals. He even praised a judge who ruled against him in a case that will deprive him of $4.5 million of his personal fortune.
“This is great, this decision. It’s fantastic,” he said.
The Republican governor’s upbeat personality and confidence are also evident in his meetings with legislators. In four months, Schwarzenegger has found time for more personal meetings with lawmakers than former Gov. Gray Davis did in five years.
In many ways, Schwarzenegger has behaved in an unorthodox fashion, taking unusual political risks and using his charm that mesmerized Hollywood for years to cut deals with Democrats who control the Legislature.
Yet in other ways, Schwarzenegger has resorted to politics as usual, the kind he campaigned against last fall.
He has broken campaign promises, including a vow to investigate allegations that he groped women and a pledge not to seek contributions from special interests.
In his first four months in office, Schwarzenegger has raised more than $10.1 million in campaign contributions, according to the political watchdog group California Common Cause — far more than his oft-criticized predecessor, Davis, did during a similar period.
The governor also shocked some insiders by demanding up to $500,000 for a ticket to a New York fund-raising dinner this Tuesday for his bond campaign. Wall Street types that could be involved in the eventual bond sale have been invited.
“He’s very unconventional in some ways and very conventional in others,” said Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media, at California State University Sacramento.
The New York event will be held at the home of Robert Wood Johnson IV, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. The money goes toward Schwarzenegger’s effort to pass Proposition 57, the $15 billion deficit bond measure, and Proposition 58, the balanced-budget amendment.
“It’s worse than Gray Davis because Gray Davis didn’t tell people he wasn’t going to raise money,” said Jamie Court, who heads the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “Why would New Yorkers want to pay $500,000 to help California? Do they really want to help, or do they want favors?”
Rob Stutzman, Schwarzenegger’s communications director, said he wished that the ballot measure campaign hadn’t asked for such hefty contributions because it makes the effort seem brazen.
Stutzman said that unlike Davis, who put his contributions into his own re-election account, Schwarzenegger is raising large sums for a ballot measure that will benefit the state.
Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based group, said there’s no real difference.
“This is a make-or-break ballot measure,” Stern said. “He’s put his reputation behind it. He’s going to be just as grateful to someone who contributes to this campaign as he would to someone donating to his re-election.”
Fund raising from businesses
When he ran for governor during the recall campaign, Schwarzenegger took aim at state government, saying the practice of special interests using contributions to buy favors from politicians — particularly Davis — had ruined the state. Davis was eventually ousted, and Schwarzenegger replaced him.
An independently wealthy movie star, Schwarzenegger said he didn’t have to take contributions to get elected. Later, he ruled out accepting donations from special interests, which he defined as public employee unions and Indian gaming tribes and which donate the bulk of their funds to Democrats. However, he took contributions from business interests.
Since his inauguration Nov. 17, Schwarzenegger has held several fund-raisers,including one hosted by brothers Joe and Gavin Maloof, owners of the SacramentoKings basketball team, and another hosted by Carly Fiorina, the chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard.
He has also raised money from a variety of businesses, including $400,000 from William Lyon Homes, $200,000 from Target, $100,000 from ChevronTexaco, $25,000 from Walgreens, $10,000 from Wal-Mart and $50,000 from Sempra Energy, according to California Common Cause.
Political watchdog groups criticize the governor for avoiding disclosure. Typically, contributors give their money to Schwarzenegger’s umbrella committee, the California Recovery Team, which then funnels the cash to individual ballot measure committees. The result is that Schwarzenegger’s donors don’t have to disclose their support on TV ads.
Stutzman said, however, that such contributions are fully disclosed on the Internet.
Stern said the practice undermines Schwarzenegger’s claim of wanting a more open government. “He’s hiding where the money is coming from. The disclosure should be on the ads, not the Internet,” he said.
Tossing protocols of power
While he has raised money in much the same way as his predecessors, Schwarzenegger is dramatically different from most other governors in using his personal charm and outgoing nature to get legislators to work together, analysts say.
As a Republican, Schwarzenegger realized he would need to get along with Democrats who control the Legislature to solve the problem he was elected to fix, the budget.
Immediately, he set about meeting with small groups of lawmakers, inviting some to smoke cigars with him and accepting an invitation from others to join them at a local bar for drinks. And the usual partisan rancor in Sacramento has been kept to a minimum.
State Sen. Dede Alpert, D-San Diego, said the governor is willing to “personally engage people. He’s making a real effort to establish personal relationships, which are very important here.”
The governor also tossed aside some of the protocols of power that career politicians cling to as their reward for surviving years of bitter elections to get to high office.
For example, instead of demanding that lawmakers come to him, Schwarzenegger is willing to meet in legislators’ offices. He also makes an effort to meet everyone in the office, including support staff.
“People at the Capitol really like him,” O’Connor said. “They feel he genuinely connects.”
Assemblyman Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, said he found the governor to be engaging.
During a private meeting to discuss workers’ compensation, the talk turned to weightlifting and the governor’s effort to lift 500 pounds when he was a bodybuilder. Vargas said he could lift only 320 pounds.
“The governor was very generous. He said, `Oh, well you’re in a different
weight class,’ ” Vargas said.
Schwarzenegger also conveys a sense of humor. In his news conferences, with a wink and a nod, he makes a point of praising the fashion sense of a notably unfashionable group: reporters.
And he frequently jokes about his last name. “When I first came over here,who the hell knew who Arnold Schwartzenschnitzel was, right? I mean, nobody,” he told the Sacramento Press Club.
The press, he said, helped make him a star by writing about his exploits as a bodybuilder.
His attention to personal relations stands in stark contrast to Davis, a loner whose campaign consultant, Garry South, urged him to spend more time cultivating legislators.
Schwarzenegger’s effective public speaking skills also stand him apart from the previous three governors, Davis, Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian. None of them were known as orators. Indeed, Schwarzenegger has drawn comparisons to the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan.
So far, Stutzman said, Schwarzenegger’s emphasis on the personal has led to two major deals. First came the bipartisan agreement to get Propositions 57 and 58 on the ballot.
Next, his friendship with John Hein, a leader with the California Teachers Association, helped him reach a deal with the powerful union to trim education spending. In the past, the teachers have fought bitter battles with Republican and Democratic governors over school funding.
“For an amateur, he’s done a remarkable job of reaching out and getting some agreements with tough adversaries,” Stern said.
Wooing the media
Vargas, however, said there are limits. “Just because you’re a terrific guy doesn’t mean we’re going to do something that’s wrong,” he said.
Schwarzenegger also realizes that personal persuasion can only go so far with lawmakers. That’s why he’s prepared to use his popularity with voters to get legislators to do what he wants.
Besides promoting Propositions 57 and 58 on next month’s ballot, the governor has said he will ask voters in November to pass workers’ compensation reform, unless the Legislature passes his bill by next week.
In the meantime, though, the Schwarzenegger conveys a sense of hope. At the Sacramento press club meeting last month, he spent time thanking nearly everybody in the room for helping to solve the budget crisis or other problems.
He especially surprised journalists by trying to turn a significant defeat in a lawsuit into a victory. Schwarzenegger applauded a court ruling that will require him to personally repay a $4.5 million campaign loan, rather than seek contributions.
“That’s part of his personality: He does things you don’t expect,” Republican analyst Tony Quinn said.
Former Gov. Davis applauds his successor’s upbeat nature. “He’s tapped into Californian’s latent optimism,” he said.
Still, Alpert believes there are two sides to the governor’s relentless optimism. On the one hand, she said, it can inspire legislators to action and persuade voters.
“But the danger is that it makes it seem like we have easy choices, when we don’t,” she said.
When it comes to the budget, even an unconventional governor faces conventional choices: either raise taxes; cut funding for education, transportation and health programs for the poor; or borrow.
Political scientist O’Connor said Schwarzenegger’s future lies in convincing people that he is a different kind of politician. “People really do hate politicians,” she said. “The minute he becomes a traditional politician, he’s dead.”
Contact Bill Ainsworth at: [email protected]