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Hans, Franz, Arnold, and John

Jul
19
2004

Okay, so what’s really going on here in California with the budget?
A bunch of different things. Confusion, understandably, abounds.
First Gov. Terminator, who has famously said that he likes to work quickly, is a little teed-off over the Legislature’s decision to drag its feet. He promised a budget by the end of June and well, it’s July 19th. Looks bad. Not terrible. But bad, a chink in the old armor. And the governor’s got things to do, ya know? It’s a bi-partisan household, they got travel plans.
More interesting is the longer-term political strategy. Schwarzenegger may be using the Democrats’ foot-dragging as a way to build up a little political credibility with his own party. Remember how steamed the Republicans were when the Gov. cut a financial deal last time around and didn’t tell them in until the last minute? Not this time. All together now: Girlie Mon!
Besides, staring down the unions and the trial lawyers, well, that’s primo Democratic “special interest” territory, a red flag for any Republican, moderate or otherwise. With the unions geared up – financially and otherwise – to make absolutely the state goes for Democratic nominee John Kerry and his trial lawyer running mate, John Edwards, Schwarzenegger is scoring a few cheap points. The two pieces of tag-along legislation aren’t huge deals in the grand scheme of things. One would give schools the right to hire private (not necessarily unionized) companies for services like meals and bus service. The other is the repeal of a law, signed by lame duck Gov. Gray Davis, covering employee lawsuits against employers. Repeal is good for Republicans, bad for Democrats.
That’s the short-term play. But there’s the longer look. Two Republicans with ties to the administration – policy advisor Joe Rodota and Dan Schnur – are hinting that some of this fight is about the Gov.’s much-discussed but still secret reform package, which is scheduled to be teed-up after the budget. Schnur said as much to the Chron over the weekend. Rodota, appearing on KRON’s “4 the Record” political chat show suggested that an election-year showdown was simply a good way for Gov. Terminator to show future legislators that he means business.
Schwarzenegger might be ticking off hard core Democrats – and I have yet to meet a California Democrat who wasn’t, deep-down, scared of the unions – but there’s another audience here. California is filled with upper middle class self-employed folks — none of us have jobs, it’s true — who don’t understand the unions’ or the lawyers’ power. These non-partisan Progressive Libertarians see these two groups as little more than special interests that control the Democrats — to the party’s detriment.
The independence on the part of non-partisan liberals who might normally support the Democratic Party agenda dovetails nicely – but not completely – with an essay by Thomas Frank (author of the summer must-read for Progressive Democrats, “What’s The Matter with Kansas?”) that appeared in the LATimes over the weekend.
Frank says Democrats have abandon the middle class, choosing instead to follow the money – Hollywood, corporations, bankers — and court upper middle class liberals who have the time to worry about so-called cultural issues. His thesis, with which I partly agree, got some nice comments from Political Animal Kevin Drum yesterday.
But the current state of California politics – where Schwarzenegger can successfully rail against the unions and the lawyers as a warm-up to more and more intense state-wide reform – provides a more realistic glimpse of another aspect of the party’s flawed strategy. The unions are as wealthy as corporate donors in many respects, but they lack the sort of on-the-ground negotiating muscle the once had. So, for many outside their organizations – or in, listen to what SEIU President Andrew Stern said when he came to San Francisco last month – their power has less status and their membership doesn’t reflect the folks they should be representing. In a Wal-mart nation, where we’ve come to accept that it’s every man or woman for his or herself and to hell with the other guy, the unions have gotten out of step. They are fat and happy. For Progressive Libertarians, not exactly a charitable bunch, that’s dumb and slow. And dumb and slow for a group that’s interested in speed, agility (mental and financial) and flexibility, well, it’s the same as roadkill.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 12:46 PM | Permalink

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