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Archives for Arnold Schwarzenegger

Suze Orman For Governor


I was an early and ardent supporter of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger but the compromises he made to achieve a “balanced” budget in 2009 now make me believe that the Golden State elected the wrong celebrity. We should have elected Suze Orman. Only the CNBC talk show host would have the backbone to tell the Legislature and special interests, “Sorry, honey, you can’t afford this. DENIED.”

In a sixty-second TV ad running across California this past week, the Republican governor promises not to raise taxes, and that he, “will not sign a budget that pushes our financial problems down the road, because the road stops here.”

Unfortunately, the Legislative leaders and governor seemed to have used a few billion dollars in deficit financing to build an extension on the financial problems highway that pushes the deficits down the road and into the next administration.

Among the budget “solutions” agreed to by the governor are many gimmicks that take money from future years and use it to balance the 2009-10 budget. And, of course, no one has said how they will account for the gimmickry in future years.

Two billion dollars will be “borrowed” from cities and counties, to be paid back in 2013. That’s two billion-plus that the next governor will have to find.

One billion of the budget balance comes from pushing one round of paychecks for state workers from June 30, 2010 – the end of the current fiscal year – to July 1, 2010, with no word on when or if their paychecks will come in 2011.

Taxpayers also get caught in this mess. Individual withholdings for estimated taxes for 2011 will be taken out of paychecks at an accelerated rate in 2010. Does that mean that the government will collect NO witholdings from personal income taxes the following year? I doubt they could afford that.

This game is not just limited to revenues. Even the vaunted $16 billion in “cuts” involve kicking the can along the budget-balancing highway. For example, the compromise proposes not buying any new textbooks for K-12 schools for five years, yet takes all of the savings in 2009.

Governor Schwarzenegger asks us to “Stand up for California,” in his ads, when it looks like he was using crutches – at best – in the budget negotiations he held with the legislature’s Democrats.

The basic problem in California is that we want to spend more money than we have. In fact, it seems to be an epidemic in America. Some blame our budget mess on Proposition 13, which limits property tax assessments; others cite Proposition 98, which sets school funding levels on auto-pilot.

Everyone has a favor budgetary whipping boy. What we really need is a firm matronly voice telling us, “Sorry, honey, you cannot afford that!” We need Suze Orman to stand up to the legislature and tell them their credit card is DENIED.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:54 PM | Permalink

Judicial Review Gone Wrong


In both the first and final ads for the Yes on 8 campaign – supporting a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California – proponents argued that the people, not San Francisco-based judges, should be the final arbiters of the matter.

Today, in a stroke of irony, the Yes on 8 campaign lawyers are asking the California Supreme Court to decide the referendum’s fate, after prevailing by a narrow margin on November 4th. And it doesn’t sound as though the battle between the courts and the voters will end on the day that the California Supreme Court makes its ruling.

More surprising, given the threats to recall any judges who disagree on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, it’s clear the religious right would rather undo decades of work to build a conservative judiciary than allow two loving people to get married.

At issue before the courts is a fundamental Constitutional question: Who has the power to determine the rights of a minority? Is that for the courts to decide or for the voters? And did Proposition 8 attempt to over-rule the courts or change the state’s constitution. The legal tests to determine it success rest on this very specific point of law.

Proposition 8 seems discreet, adding just fourteen words to the California constitution and dealing with just one subject. But a question about the intent of the amendment – and it’s actual legal status – remains unresolved. Does Proposition 8 take away a power from the Courts and give it to the electorate? If it did, well, we have a interesting set of circumstances.

On statutory questions, the courts clearly are the final arbiters. That was made clear in several decisions including the overturning of Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative which denied state benefits to illegal immigrants, and Proposition 22, the 2000 initiative statute to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. On the issue of protecting minority rights, the people of the state of California can – and do – make those decisions. And the courts can undo them.

That decision as to where Proposition 8 legally stands now rests in the hands of the California Supreme Court. Unlike federal courts, these judges are subject to election and the specter of a recall vote if the people disagree with their actions. Proposition 8′s proponents already tried to blackmail businesses who opposed their constitutional amendment, and now they’re trying to blackmail the State’s highest court, which is despicable.

Proponents of Proposition 8 are already threatening a recall of any judge who votes to overturn the measure. California Republican Party Vice Chairman Jon Fleishman argues that “proponents of Proposition 8 do have a “nuclear option” in their arsenal. That option is the recall or non-reconfirmation of members of the California Supreme Court, if they refuse to uphold Proposition 8. It has happened before, and the issue was the California death penalty.”

While claiming that, “The court should have a chance to do the right thing,” Proposition 8 attorney Andrew Pugno also threatens that, “no one would be able to stop,” a recall vote on the judges.

Republicans should be wary of taking the nuclear option out against Republican judges who were appointed by Republican Governors.

Should any member of the California Supreme Court be removed from the bench now or in 2010, their successor will be appointed by centrist Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, or even worse, a newly-elected Governor Jerry Brown, Antonio Villaraigosa or Gavin Newsom and face confirmation by a hyper-partisan, Democratic-controlled State Senate. Years of work to give the state a responsible conservative judiciary will be wasted.

So I ask my fellow Republicans: Is gay marriage worth giving up decades of struggle to control the State courts? Even if these judges lost their jobs, do you think a Schwarzenegger- or Brown-appointed replacement would overturn their decision?

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:45 AM | Permalink

A Vote For Real Change


Last week, I proudly joined a number of current and former Republican Party officials in Los Angeles to condemn an L.A. county GOP event promoting California’s Proposition 8 – the measure which would eliminate the right to marry for same-sex couples.

Now, the role of the local political party plays California is to help elect its members to office. Which is why another, less heralded ballot measure, Proposition 11, is much more important – now and for decades to come. Proposition 11 is on California’s ballot this fall but it’s not just a California issues, as a look at a number of large states’ (Texas) voting districts demonstrates. The ways in which legislative districts across the country are drawn is a wonky – but important issue – for anyone interested in politics.

Here in Los Angeles, County Republican Chairman Linda Boyd defended the “Town Hall Forum” on Proposition 8 as a good way to elect more Republicans by energizing the volunteer base. But even if Boyd is correct, in the long-term she’s dead wrong. Not only will Proposition 8 eliminate constitutional rights for many loyal Republicans, but if the party wanted to elect more Republicans, it should focus instead on passing Proposition 11, the ballot measure designed to end gerrymandering by creating a fairer process for drawing voting districts.

Although the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress are less popular than President George Bush in California – a Herculean feat – almost no member of either body is seriously worried about losing his or her job eight weeks from now. Under the current scheme – which some say was a cynical deal by the legislature and the state’s Congressional delegations – exactly zero legislative and only a few Congressional seats have changed parties. I can’t think of a better testament to the broken system California has for drawing its legislative boundaries.

State legislators draw the lines for the seats they will sit in every ten years and those incumbents draw lines creating election districts that don’t foster real competition. Only in one case of gross malfeasance by an incumbent Congressman have we seen a seat in Congress change hands

So California elections – our primaries, really – have become a race to the ideological extremes. Democrats must only compete for the votes of Democrats and Republicans must only compete for the votes of other Republicans within the boundaries incumbents have drawn for their own and their parties’ benefit. November victories are decided not by a vote of the people, but by a vote of 120 politicians when who drew the assembly district boundaries nearly a decade ago. Party activists – the folks who really turn out for primaries – seal these agreement every Spring.

There is no incentive for any politician in Sacramento to reach across the aisle, because the risk of a primary challenge to a perceived “maverick” is greater than the risk of losing in November. And there is no substantive political discourse in Sacramento because no one needs to satisfy any but he hardest of hard core party loyalist. Which is why – and this is just this year’s example – there is was state budget for nearly three months.

If the Republican Party’s mission is to elect more Republicans, then it’s Proposition 11, not Proposition 8, which matters most. If approved by the voters, Proposition 11 will take the power to draw political boundaries out of the hands of politicians.

With fairer, more competitive districts, both Democrats and Republicans will have to compete for the hearts and minds of the voters – real voters with real issues on their minds and – perish the thought- an interest in issues, not party loyalty. That can only be a good thing for the voters, and ultimately California.

Standing up for the voters’ right to choose their elected officials may not win any seats in November 2008 and it doesn’t give the party’s conservative base any quick-and-dirty talking points. But Proposition 11 will give Republicans a chance to make their case to voters in November 2018, November 2028 and beyond. And that, my friends, should be the mission of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 5:00 AM | Permalink

California’s Gay Marriage Conundrum


Last Friday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger shocked a ballroom full of gay Republicans – and perhaps an entire state – when he announced that he would oppose a constitutional amendment to ban equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians in California. The religious right screamed “betrayal” from a governor who twice vetoed legislation to make marriage equality the law, and liberal Democrats were befuddled by what they saw as a shift of position.

Outside of California, the announcement to the Log Cabin Republicans was seen as a change of position, making the California Governor seem like the enigmatic maverick he has endorsed for president. But in reality, Schwarzenegger has never changed his position on gay marriage and gay rights; indeed he’s signed into law more pieces of gay rights legislation – 19 in all – than any other governor. Instead, he has but slowly revealed how he feels about an issue mired in the complexities of California lawmaking.

Schwarzenegger’s position on gay marriage comes from a wholly California perspective. As he sees it, there is a difference between marriage equality as a constitutional amendment versus a legislative statute or an initiative statute. That’s why he twice vetoed legislative statutes granting marriage rights. But it’s also why he said he would support an initiative statute if the people decided the issue at the polls.

Of course, given his record, it came as a shock when Schwarzenegger announced in 2005 that he would veto a bill from the legislature designed to grant gay couples the holy grail of civil rights: the right to marry. During the month that followed that announcement and his actual veto of the bill, gay rights groups led by Democrats thought they could win him over by comparing him to Governor George Wallace–an attempted scare tactics that in the end proved only to get the door to Sacramento’s Horseshoe slammed in their face. He is, after all, The Terminator.

When he vetoed the marriage rights bill, Schwarzenegger was very forthright in his reasoning. Because the voters had passed Proposition 22, defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, the legislature could not, constitutionally, override the will of the people. Only the courts, or the people themselves with another ballot initiative, could do that.

Schwarzenegger subsequently said that if the people decided to make marriage equality the law, he would be for it.

So let’s review the Governator’s positions on marriage equality. He is against a legislative statute allowing it, acknowledges the fact that there is an initiative statute banning it on the books, would support a court decision or initiative statute making it law, and is against a Constitutional ban on gay marriage.

But until Friday, Schwarzenegger had not taken a position on whether gays and lesbians should have equal marriage rights. This is why there has been so much confusion. Early statements outlined the governor’s positions on how the legal means used to grant such rights, not on their merits.

On California’s November ballot, there may will be a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage which would make the debate over legislative versus initiative statutes irrelevant. Governor Schwarzenegger said that he thought that such a measure would not only be “a waste of time” but that he would fight against it – creating room for a solution to the procedural problems that give gays the right to marry – and drawing rancorous applause from the Log Cabin audience.

It’s not as easy as saying Schwarzenegger is “for it” or he is “against it” when it comes to same-sex marriage. And if Democrats weren’t trying to score political points in their attacks, they might even call his positions “nuanced.” The reality is that Schwarzenegger’s position is as complex as California’s government itself. A telling statement on the the governance of the state as a whole and why it can be so difficult to get anything done in Sacramento.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 1:40 AM | Permalink

All Sizzle, No Fat in Obama’s Message


As America familiarizes itself with this year’s large crop of presidential candidates, it seems easier to compare the people running to office to politicians we’re more familiar with than to get to know them ourselves. Indulging in this parlor game a few weeks ago, I compared Republican Mike Huckabee to the Bill Clinton of 1992—but one without the demons of gluttony and adultery. Today, it’s Sen. Barack Obama’s turn.

And as with Huckabee, the best comparison for the Democratic presidential contender is a someone from across the political aisle.

The Obama campaign has embraced a monosyllabic message: change. Obama wants to spread hope through change to unify the country, much to the chagrin of those who point out that not all Americans may desire unifying around Obama’s specific version of change.

Here in California the tone of Obama’s message is familiar. It sounds much like that of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s why Obama may have trouble selling his fairy tale to Californians on February 5th. We’ve voted for a politician who promises the sizzle without the fat.

The defining moment of the Obama candidacy came not with his win in Iowa, but in a Las Vegas debate in mid-November. When asked what he would do about sending nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain – an unpopular idea in the state – the Illinois Senator skipped the pandering and started with the dreaming.

“I don’t think it’s fair to send it to Nevada… because we’re producing it.” Obama said, before continuing, “so what have to do is we’ve got to develop the storage capacity based on sound science. Now, laboratories like Argonne in my own home state are trying to develop ways to safely store nuclear waste without having to ship it across the country and put it in somebody else’s backward.”

Moderator Wolf Blitzer wasn’t buying it, so he pressed on, asking, “until there’s some new technological breakthrough, as you would hope and all of us would hope, where do you send the waste?”

After criticizing Blitzer for trying to find out what Obama’s practical solution to a real and urgent problem was, Obama rejected the question entirely: “But — but — but I’m running for president because I think we can do it. I reject… I reject the notion that we can’t meet our energy challenges.”

Then he finished with a flurry: “We can, if we’ve got bold leadership in the White House that is saying we are going to do something about climate change, we are going to develop renewable energy sources. That’s what I intend to do as president. And we shouldn’t, you know, be pessimistic about the future of America.”

As I see it, neither ‘hope’ nor ‘change’ will make the nation’s very real nuclear waste go away, but Senator Obama wasn’t having any of it, acting as if the President could wish away the nation’s problems. Barack Obama isn’t running a fairy tale campaign, as Bill Clinton suggested, he’s running for President of Fantasyland.

When he ran for Governor back in 2003, Schwarzenegger promised change. He said he would “blow up the boxes” of bureaucracy in Sacramento, address the budget crisis, pension reform and other pressing needs. When his actual proposals were put on the ballot two years later, voters rejected them.

With a booming economy, the State’s finances and the Governor’s public image improved – until this month. In his State of the State address, Schwarzenegger sounded like a visionary uniter of men, expressing his faith in government to address monumental crises, as it had in response to the Southern California wildfires last fall. The budget, he suggested, was in just such a crisis, and he entrusted the legislature to rise up to the moment and dream big about what can be done to improve education and provide universal healthcare in the face of a $14 billion fiscal hole.

The good will did not last long, however. Once the TV cameras were turned off and Schwarzenegger actually had to “govern”—releasing his budget blueprint which slashed school funding and closed public parks and beaches – Californians realized that you cannot have sizzle without the fat.

So far, the Obama message is all about the sizzle. We should be optimists about America and have faith that if we can dream a solution we can achieve it. Those are worthy goals indeed, but more often than not, those who hold them are forced to face the dirty reality of governing. Having bought the Schwarzenegger sizzle twice, Californians may be reluctant to think that a third time might work when Obama comes around to charm us.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:52 AM | Permalink

Blame Iowa for Market Woes


Every four years, the media proclaims the virtues of the Iowa Caucuses – real Americans from middle America get together in DeTocquevilliean style meetings to make a choice for the next President of the United States. But the preeminence of the Iowa Cuacuses are costing regular Americans like you and me more than we know. It’s a little complicated but, trust me, the caucuses and its Holy Grail status in American politics are at the heart of our current economic woes.

Three times in the last week, the stock market has fallen out of bed to the tune of three-digit losses. On Monday an official from CalPERS – the nation’s largest pension fund serving California’s state employees – told CNBC’s Money Honey Maria Bartiromo that the pension fund lost two billion dollars in two days, a feat not even the inept California Legislature could accomplish. And it’s all because of the Iowa Caucus.

Behind the market’s woes is what’s being called the “sub-prime debacle.” Families who leveraged their fortunes to buy a home on an adjustable rate mortgage can no longer afford once it adjusted upwards. Foreclosure notices are being handed out in record numbers. Mortgages are costing more these days because interest rates keep going up. The Federal Reserve has hit the pause button on hiking interest rates but refuses to do the one thing that would help many Americans stay in their homes – cutting rates.

In the meantime, Americans are getting hit at the pocketbooks whenever we stuff something into their mouths. Food inflation has joined oil prices among the leading causes of increased living expenses for Americans. Why does food costs more? The Iowa Caucuses.

Food prices are being led by surges in the cost of one item: corn. And it’s not just Nebraska football players who are corn-fed. Which, of course, brings us to Iowa.

Eat a pork chop? That pig probably ate corn. So did the cow they slaughtered to make your filet mignon, and so on. The cost of corn contributes to the rising cost of more than just your Frosted Flakes. So as the cost of corn goes up, so does the expense of producing just about everything else in the food supply.

So why is the price of corn going up so much? You guessed it: the Iowa Caucuses.

Corn is the key ingredient in America’s production of ethanol. Coincidentally, they grow a lot of corn in Iowa. That’s long been the reason why any politician with Presidential ambition wants you to put ethanol in your car. Pro ethanol policies help farmers sell more corn and ethanol’s newly hip status as a possible “green” fuel is, well, making the idea even more popular. But even before it became fashionable, support for ethanol was probably the only thing that all Presidential candidates could agree on.

Senator John McCain, at least, has been honest about his conversion to pro-ethanol policies since he skipped the Iowa caucuses in 2000 but he’s now drinking ethanol as if it were a glass of Kool-Aid. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has an eye on next year’s Iowa caucuses as well, making ethanol the center of his energy policy but he doesn’t ask how much it will cost Americans to replace its foreign oil with corn-based ethanol. The Democrats are not immune to the sweet taste of ethanol Kool-aid either Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have pro-ethanol stances.

Were the Iowa Caucuses not the first official event in the Presidential selection season, I somehow doubt that ethanol would be so popular. If you want the exception to prove this rule, look no further than California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unable to run for President and unaffected by the Iowa caucuses, Schwarzenegger’s environmentalism embraces hydrogen, not ethanol – a technology favored automakers Mercedes and BMW.

So, in a way, if you lost money in the stock market this week or worse, risk losing your home to foreclosure, don’t Blame President George W. Bush. Don’t Blame Canada. Blame Iowa and their first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:26 AM | Permalink

Past Performance, Future Warnings


Sitting around with friends at a barbeque Sunday afternoon, I had to bite my tongue as the group discussion meandered into the issue of veterans’ healthcare.

The liberal friends gathered around the circle recited the horror stories of Iraq War veterans who were told they’d receive full healthcare benefits only to return home mentally ill and kill their families and so on. True or not, I wanted to ask these folks a simple question. How could they simultaneously criticize the healthcare our government gives to veterans while supporting the idea of a universal healthcare system run by that same government?

Before the American people today stand two philosophies for providing healthcare to all Americans.

One school of thought, championed by liberals like Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton would apply the VA model for healthcare to everyone with one single-payer, that payer being the government. The other approach, championed by Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger uses a market-based approach like the G.I. Bill, setting minimum standards of coverage and allowing people to choose the healthcare plan which best suits their situation.

I’m not a healthcare expert like others, but I do know that when it comes to government policy, we should not pay heed to the warning we hear in mutual fund ads: Past performance is indicative of future results. Besides, there’s an alternative model to use.

Following World War II, the government set about to make sure our veterans got access to higher education and to health care.

Rather than creating a university systems just for vets, the U.S. Congress passed the G.I. Bill, essentially giving veterans what amounted to school vouchers to pursue a university degree. Under the G.I. Bill, millions of veteran – from WWII, Korea and Vietnam – have gotten a higher education. Some went to Harvard, others pursued occupational training but each received education according to their need.

On the other hand, when it came to providing healthcare, the government chose to create a network of hospitals under the Veterans Administration. As my friends’ comments indicate, the Veterans Health Administration has not had the success of the GI Bill. The centerpiece of veterans care, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is in worse shape than your local No-Tell Motel. That scandal has led Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson to resign.

If a veteran wants – you know, actual health care – without having to wait weeks or months for that “elective” surgery to repair his hip, the only option would be to pay out-of-pocket and go to a private hospital.

Some folks just need a physical once a year and urgent care when necessary, while others need a stack of prescriptions. The very nature of the kinds of demands and their variety makes the idea of a one-size fits all plan for health care laughable.

While past performance may not be indicative of future results, when my health is on the line, I’d rather hedge my bets by betting against the goverment-run model we know to be an abject failure.

Clarification: An earlier version of this piece referred to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center as part of the VA, which of course, it is not, being an Army Medical Center. Thanks to Matthew Holt for pointing me through the confusion caused by the Associated Press article on the reasons for Nicholson’s resignation.

Editor’s Note: Spot-on’s health care writer Matthew Holt disagrees with Scott Olin Schmidt and he’s put it in writing. You can read that post, which further clarifies Walter Reed’s place in the government bureuacracy, here.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:04 AM | Permalink

Post-Partisan Party Politicking


Los Angeles hosted an unprecedented conference of Republican and Democrat leaders this week, meeting in this year before the election for an unusual purpose. They didn’t gather to discuss not how to claim America’s votes as though they were the rightful property of one political party or the other but, instead, this group proposed that this nation be governed for Americans – not its ruling political classes.

The roster of speakers at the University of Southern California’s Ceasefire! conference on bridging the political divide had the superstar status worthy of its location: the new Creative Artists Agency headquarters in Century City. Talking heads Juan Williams of Fox News, Jay Carney and Lawrence O’Donnell of the McLaughlin Group, Michael Kinsley of and former Bush advisor Matthew Dowd were but an intermezzo between appetizer courses of mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York (who has left the Republican party) and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Governors Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California.

Despite their party affiliations – Villaraigosa and Napolitano are Democrats, Schwarzenegger a Republican and Bloomberg an independent having been a Republican and a Democrats – the themes of the four speeches given by the state and local leaders were remarkably similar: if Washington is going to be paralyzed by gridlock in some many important policy arenas then it is up to the states and cities to take leadership on setting policy and taking action on the pressing issues of the day: immigration, health care and global warming (or climate change).

As Villaraigosa, a Democrat, said, “State and local leaders are moving the needle on big issues because we are daring to think and dream big. We’re doing so across party lines. We’re doing so by refusing to trim our expectations or to hedge our bets,” he said. “Like generations of Angelenos before us – we are imagining a brighter future, and we are building it. And I believe, like cities around the country, we’re demonstrating that it’s possible to create a different kind of government – one that is both fiscally responsible and socially progressive.”

Fiscally responsible and socially progressive – that sounds a lot like the agenda of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promotes an agenda of economic and social freedom.

The California Governor pointed to the debate over immigration as a clear area where a post-partisan agenda would shun the extremes and build compromise. Advocating that politicians “re-introduce the concept of the mainstream,” Governor Schwarzenegger laid out a simple compromise for immigration reform in his keynote remarks, “How about being realistic and just solving the problem? There’s a totally reasonable centrist approach to the issue, and it is this; secure our borders while at the same time recognizing the economic and social reality by providing a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for those already here, and who meet certain criteria, like pay a fine for coming here illegally, learning the English language, and being law abiding citizens.”

If starting to build bridges across Washington’s partisan divide sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve heard it before.

At the end of the day, however, a Post-Partisan approach to governing will only work if it can translate into a post-partisan way of running for elected office. With the exception of Ronald Reagan’s landslide win in 1984, most Presidential races in recent memory have been won by single digits. As Bush Strategist Matthew Down pointed out, when all you need to win office is 51% of the vote, why spend the money to win with 61%?

This economical approach to campaigning leads candidates to win by ungovernable majorities which, rather than bring the nation together, split us apart. And it’s not like Dowd doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He perfected the practice of micro-targeting for politics – and got George W. Bush elected. Twice.

The partisan campaign starts with an established base of voters, then slowly tries to add to it to reach 51%, adding incrementally to the number of voters as the campaign wears on. By contrast, a post-partisan campaign, like that of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, embraces the center of the political spectrum and establishes itself as the only viable alternative for his own party’s base. It’s “put up or shut up” to some extent and while some politicians might think they have the skill and the courage to run such a race, they often take the easier course. Why? Well, it works. Unfortunately it also results in the election of poll-conscious politicians who cater to their parties’ extremes instead of attempting to forge workable compromises.

In California, the number of voters choosing not to affiliate with any political party has climbed 50% in the last eight years making it the third largest political group in the State. As more and more Americans abandon political labels and consider themselves members of neither the Republican nor Democratic Party – just as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has done – it’s possible that a post-partisan approach to politics will become the only winning strategy. And we can finally bridge America’s political divide, where action is valued ahead of posturing.

But that day may be some time away. If Americans don’t abandon their partisan affiliations, what looks like positioning for an “independent” bid is more likely to land Michael Bloomberg in the crossfire of American politics than on the front porch of the White House.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:18 AM | Permalink

D.C. Goes Post-Partisan


Since Democrats took over the U.S. House and Senate last fall, practical political observers – myself included – have suggested that President George Bush, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid take a page from their California counterparts who somehow figured out how to get along and advance a common agenda, despite their partisan differences.

But until last week’s immigration deal was struck, it seemed like our practical advice fell on deaf ears. Washington seemed more intent to be hyper-partisan rather than post-partisan. But that deal – like the compromise on funding for our troops in Iraq – is a sign that Washington is moving to a post-partisan way of doing business.

Although Pelosi and Reid have been slow on the uptake about the balance of powers, there are signs five months into their terms that the two are getting a hang of the process of compromise – even if it is a dirty word in Washington.

Given the start of this Congress, it seemed unlikely that I’d be typing the word “compromise” in any column about Pelosi. She, in particular, seemed to channel the obstinacy of her predecessor Newt Gingrich, focusing on a Democrat’s “100 Hour” agenda as the Demcrats swept back into power. After more than 100 days, however, not one bit of the “100 Hour” agenda has become law – threatening to saddle her Congress – the first her party has had since 1995 – as “do-nothing”.

And when it came to funding the war in Iraq, the Democrats seemed dug in. Pelosi and Reid complained that the President did not have the constitutional authority to have the funding bill exactly as he wished and that Congress had to have a say. While they were technically correct, the two Democrats, for the moment at least, seemed to forget that Congress wasn’t given a carte-blanche in the Constitution either.

The branches of government have to work together if they want to get anything done. And that’s where the lessons from California these past few years would serve our national leadership well.

Last November, voters went to the polls in record numbers to “throw the bums out”, the Republican bums that is. But when all was said and done, one Republican not only survived, he thrived on election day. Although California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fate seemed sealed with electoral defeats in a 2005 Special Election, he has managed to reach accords on global warming, raising the minimum wage and expanding civil rights with his Democratic-led legislature.

Like Schwarzenegger in 2005, George Bush is not a popular man – in California, in fact, gay marriage is twice as popular as the President – but, thankfully, polling numbers do not effect one’s constitutional powers, including the power to sign or veto legislation. President Bush reminded Congress of that when he rejected their timeline to surrender in Iraq.

What happened next was somewhat surprising. Rather than become more acrimonious with the President – as if that were possible with Senators using Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez as a punching bag – Congress started to work with the president. The first evidence of this new political savvy was last week’s breakthrough compromise on immigration reform, the first item on a “compromise agenda” I suggested back in November. And yesterday, Congress compromised again on funding for the war.

To make post-partisanship work in Washington, Congress and the President must battle forces within their political parties as they strive to make progress toward breaking down the partisan divide. Democrats must reconcile their desires to give handouts to big labor while placating the pro-immigration forces within their party while Republicans must choose between big business and anti-immigrant bigotry. When it comes to the war in Iraq, Democrats must resist their natural instincts to hand over the keys of the Pentagon to the extremist anti-war elements of their party–a lesson they seem to be learning–and Republicans must realize that they do not have a blank check to fight enemies real and imagined indefinitely.

We will see many more debates similar to the one over the proposed guest-worker program which will test Washington’s willingness to keep the compromise coalition intact.

But as California’s Governor Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez have taught us, good governing doesn’t mean you always get what you want. By relenting on a timetable for Iraq, Congressional Democrats are showing that they may be starting to understand this – just as California Democrats understand that Governor Schwarzenegger won’t approve of any new taxes.

If Washington can weather the immigration storm – and send a bill to the President’s desk this summer – the groundwork will be laid for a new era of post-partisanship which might prove the President, in the end, to be a “uniter, not a divider.” Only if Pelosi and Reid can resist the urge to be confrontational with Bush with theirs be labeled anything but a “do-nothing Congress.”

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:00 AM | Permalink

The State of the Union is…California!


After two centuries of Presidents delivering the State of the Union to Congress, we’ve gotten used to hearing a one-word summary. The State of the Union is (fill in the blank).

The words “strong” or “resolute” no longer seem to apply as much as “divided” or “frail” this year, so it is probably best that President Bush held it back until the closing moments in his 2007 address.

But I can report to you here today that the State of the Union is…California!

With a Republican chief executive forced to work with a hostile legislative branch, the Washington is looking a lot like California has over the past three years under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The question remains as to whether we’re looking at California in 2004 or the Golden State of ‘ought-six.

Like California, the nation is benefiting from a strong economy. Tax receipts to the federal government are coming in ahead of projections, cutting the federal deficit in half. Similar revenue gains have led Governor Schwarzenegger to submit a balanced budget for the first time since the dot-com boom.

Shortly after the November elections, political observers (myself included) suggested that President Bush and Speaker Pelosi look west to California for inspiration on how to play nice in a divided government.

While Speaker Pelosi has yet to follow in the conciliatory footsteps of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez—instead pushing forward with a radically partisan agenda which I doubt will ever become law – it seems President Bush is reading off the cue cards of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election script.

The domestic issues highlighted by President Bush in his 2007 State of the Union reflect a “progressive libertarian” approach to solving issues traditionally considered the domain of Democrats; he’s taking a page from Arnold.

Bush wants to use market forces to control greenhouse gas emissions and take healthcare decisions out of the hands of the government and employers and put it in the hands of people and their doctors. By proposing to give subventions to those states pursuing universal health insurance, he’s propping up Schwarzenegger’s “third way” to universal healthcare as opposed to those in the California legislature who would just want the government to be the single player.

Bush continues to pursue pension and political reforms – something on which both the President and Schwarzenegger have tried and failed over the course of their administrations. Yet the agenda has narrowed to “pork-busting” at the federal level just as Schwarzenegger has lowered his sights from blowing up the boxes with reapportionment reform to rearranging it on the ship-deck, alongside extended term limits.

We don’t need to “Amend for Arnold” because we have the new George W. Bush, Presidentnator of the United States.

What will determine whether the State of the Union is California 2004 or the Golden State of ’06 is Congressional Democrats’ willingness to play along with an unpopular chief executive. If they look at recent California history, they’ll see that even their poll numbers can benefit by working across the aisle.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:30 AM | Permalink

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