The wurst of times

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Arnold Schwarzenegger came to power in California promising to exclude special interests, but his definition of them is rather special.

The Guardian UK

There were all kinds of exotic vehicles whizzing through Sacramento, the state capital of California, as Arnold Schwarzenegger was installed as governor at yesterday’s ceremony. All those white stretch limos and black Hummers and police motorcycle outriders made it clear that this was a special day in the history of the city.

One that caught the eye was a seven-metre (22-foot) long moving billboard that kept circulating through the main streets as guests of the governor emerged from the various post-ceremony events with their goodie bags (quite modest gifts – a memorial glass and a wee souvenir flag).

On the side of this vehicle was a Webster’s dictionary definition of “special interest” which was defined as “n. a person or group seeking to influence legislative or government policy to further often narrowly defined interests; especially lobby”.

Arnold Schwarzenegger came to power pledged to challenge the “special interests” that he claimed, with some justification, had too much influence in the state. His particular targets were the unions and the Indian gaming casinos. His defeated Democrat predecessor, Gray Davis, who could just be spotted on the platform silently gritting his teeth, was a particular beneficiary of the prison guards’ union and the casinos.

The billboard was the baby of a group called the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) which has launched its own web site,, to monitor how the governor behaves politically. The group even has a tip line for reporting special interest sightings.

“Schwarzenegger has claimed that special interests include only labour unions and Native American tribes, not large corporations and other business interests that have been his biggest boosters,” said Carmen Balber, of FTCR. “This governor must recognise that big business is the ultimate special interest group and Californians elected him to protect the public interest, not large corporations.”

At the start of his campaign this summer, Schwarzenegger announced that he would be free from reliance on special interests as “I don’t have to take money from anybody. I have plenty of money myself.”

As it transpired, he ended up accepting donations for a war chest that eventually reached $18 million (£11m). His biggest donors were financial companies, real estate businesses and developers, agricultural interests, the car industry and construction companies. What aspires to do is see what sorts of breaks those businesses now get.

As for tackling the special interests of the prison unions, his latest appointment to head the prison system, Roderick Hickman, was an official with the Correctional Peace Officers Association so the chances of a reduction in the prison population, currently the highest per capita outside China, seem slim.

The new site notes that the inaugural lunch was paid for by the chamber of commerce and Mr Schwarzenegger was the first candidate it had endorsed for constitutional office for more than 100 years. This lunch, as has been noted elsewhere, contained a special selection of Austrian delicatessen meat items. So it can be said that, for Californian Republicans, this is indeed the best of times and the wurst of times.
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