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Fortunate Sons

Aug
1
2004

His tanned and toned face – along with that big tacky turquoise ring – are front and center as Gov. Terminator makes the cover of Fortune, not quite celebrating the passage of the state’s budget and not yet anticipating what promises to be a far more important – and lasting – political battle to reform state government.
The Fortune piece isn’t much, which is likely a timing problem more than anything else. The issue is meant to celebrate power which Schwarzenegger has, relishes, and employs in a variety of ways. But instead of concentrating on Gov. Terminator’s flexibility and his willingness to let Democrats get ahead of his own party (he’s done it twice now), Fortune concentrates a bit too much on Schwarzenegger’s belief in the power of his celebrity.


That’s important but it’s not everything, as the budget fight illustrated. Or, as Sen. John Burton told The New York Times, once he and his fellow Democrats realized they were “girlie men” it got easier to talk to the governor. [Oh, and let’s get over the “girlie man” snub: it’s Schwarzenegger making fun of people who make fun of Schwarzenegger in a neat bit of post-modern meta joking that, well, seems to be a bit too sophisticated for most political writers].
But the old lions like Burton aren’t going to be in Sacramento for Schwarzenegger’s next big fight, the fight to refigure California government. State Democrats and other lefty groups — the folks who have the most to lose by the change — are giving the reform plan outlined the cold shoulder, says The Chron (the story includes quotes from our very own “token Republican” Bill Whalen).
Some of that is posturing. Soon-to-be-Sen. Carol Migden is stepping into Burton’s shoes representing our little Liberal island here in San Francisco, so she’s staking out a role in the negotiations, within the Senate, with established Democrats and against Gov. Terminator. So is Schwarzenegger, using his impatience with the legislature as a public excuse to revert to Terminator mode, threatening and intimidating before – as he has in the past – compromising.
The reform package, scheduled to be publicly released Tuesday, looks and sounds like another attempt to import business practices into government. And, in that, it may well be a Progressive Libertarian classic in the making. But, as this web site has pointed out again and again, these sorts of reform are double-edged swords. California is poorly run. A more efficient state government would be welcome; particularly if it gets rid of the expensive feather-bedding that traditional Democrats believe to be their birthright.
But the ways in which those effeciencies are enacted will mean everything; the state’s schools are in horrible shape, it’s tax base unstable and inadequate, its social services and ability to provide them faltering in ways we don’t really appreciate. Already it seems, the traditional do-good community is at a bit of a loss as to how to proceed. Some are wondering why they haven’t been called upon to voice their long-established positions with state government. Others, of course, just called up and got the meetings they wanted. As in business, the rewards went to the swift and aggressive, not to the complacent and entrenched. When Schwarzenegger plays this game with the Legislature, it’s kind of amusing – even the girlie men eventually get the joke. When he’s playing it with civic groups and environmental groups, the stakes are a bit different, the outcome not as easy to finesse.
In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom is after something similar to what Schwarzenegger is trying to accomplish; only Newsom is moving solidly from the left. In a Q&A that’s well worth reading, he shared a bit of his frustration with The Chron’s business staff Sunday. Here’s a sample:
Unlike the private sector, I don’t just get to buy whatever I want; I can’t just hire whomever I want — easily. It’s very simplistic and it’s sort of sexy from a simplistic perspective to say, “Well get rid of those 4,000 people that Willie hired.” What if I told you I could lay off every person at the airport and it’s not going to save one penny in general funds. I can lay off every single person at the port — it’s not going to deal with our budget deficit; every single person in the Redevelopment Agency and the PUC. None of those layoffs would help in our $307 million budget deficit.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 7:51 PM | Permalink

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