Schwarzenegger ready for challenges

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Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento librarian Rebecca Higgerson didn’t hear much of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s inaugural speech – not that she wanted to, anyway.

“I’m still in shock. I still can’t believe people did this,” said Higgerson, a longtime Democrat who carried a sign decrying California’s “Theater of the Absurd.”

Given the size of the state’s economy, she said, “I want someone in there with some experience. But I got through the Reagan years … and I’ll get through this.”

Across the street, California’s 38th governor had just attempted to tackle the concerns of people like Higgerson. In his speech – billed as “swearing-in remarks” in keeping with the understated spirit of the ceremonies – Schwarzenegger sought to strike a tone of both optimism and humility.

While using language reminiscent of the Reagan years to describe his vision of California as the “golden dream by the sea,” he acknowledged he is the first governor of the state since Reagan to come to his job without any political experience.

“It’s no secret that I am a newcomer to politics,” he said. “I realize I was elected on faith and hope. And I feel a great responsibility – not to let the people down.”

Recalled governor Gray Davis, who ran in 1998 on the slogan “experience moneycan’t buy,” sat with his wife Sharon and smiled politely as Schwarzenegger declared that the state is in crisis, burdened by the largest deficit and worst credit rating in the nation.

The new governor continued his campaign emphasis on restoring the state’s fiscal integrity as a man of the people, albeit one with 11 bathrooms in his primary residence and attired in a gray Prada suit.

His supporters expressed confidence that Schwarzenegger can compensate with both celebrity and personality for what he doesn’t know about state political history and process.

Any new governor who can attract both foreign dignitaries and actor Danny DeVito to his inauguration, Republican legislative leaders are convinced, can campaign in legislative districts to enact his agenda or go straight to the ballot to accomplish what he can’t do at the Capitol.

Democrats, meanwhile, are banking on the idea that Schwarzenegger’s bigger-than-life persona will only take him so far.

Already, The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a group that nipped at Davis’ heels throughout his tenure, has formed a Web site aimed at holding Schwarzenegger accountable for his pledge not to become beholden to special interests.

While Schwarzenegger pledged in his speech to devote his governance to the people’s interests, “not to special interests,” group spokesman Jerry Flanagan noted that state Chamber of Commerce members were paying for the bockwurst, weisswurst and hearty mustards at one of the inaugural luncheons.

“I think most people expect more of Schwarzenegger than they do a typical politician,” Flanagan said. “But the Chamber of Commerce is obviously hosting his free lunch.”

Flanagan’s group later issued a statement calling Schwarzenegger’s action to review government regulations an “abuse of power” that “gives big business a reprieve on consumer and environmental protection laws.”

Schwarzenegger told chamber audience members at the luncheon that he plans to seek ballot measures to use bonds to help absorb some of the state’s mammoth deficit and, if necessary, to reshape its worker’s compensation system.

“All of those things we want to put on the ballot, and it will take some pushing, it will take some good TV spots out there which of course cost millions of dollars, so I will be coming back to you and saying ‘open up your wallets again,'” he said.

He acknowledged he could have some trouble with the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

“…Those guys are not going to roll over,” he said. “We will work together with them .. but it’s not going to be easy.”

Nevertheless, it was still the Terminator up there on Monday, vowing to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic” in convincing fashion, making it clear he has few preconceived ideas about what can’t be done.

“I don’t this think this governor is going to hesitate to look outside of the box of the way business is done in the Capitol,” Senate Republican Leader Jim Brulte said. “His biggest advantage is the strength of the fact that he is not a product of the system.”
Alexa H. Bluth contributed.
(Distributed by Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,

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