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Don’t It Make Your Blue State Red?

Oct
4
2004

As far as most Californians are concerned, the presidential election might as well be on Mars. This has as much to do with the current state of political gamesmanship – that’s really what it has become, more obviously than ever, more poll-driven, more manipulated, less substantive, more insular – as it does with the Democratic party’s soon-to-be-regretted decision to take the state for granted.
California will go for Kerry next month. But that’s not going to last. So before the presidential contest consumes the week, let’s take a few minutes to consider what’s going on in California. ‘Cause it’s going to matter.


If Bush wins, the Democratic Party is going to fall in on itself with a fury as the Hillary Clinton, on the side of the corporate Democrats, duke it out with the Howard Dean quasi-Populists and their on-line activist fellow travelers. It promises to be ugly. If Kerry wins, the Republican Party will fall upon itself in all-out warfare that, as David Brooks has observed, will make the snapping of a pack of hungry wolves seem demure. Moderates want their party back and a defeat will give them – at last! – and excuse to fight hard and long. Their hero? Gov. Schwarzenegger.
So take a look at the spate of stories about Gov. Terminator rounding up his first year in elected office. The LATimes and The Chron can’t decide what to make of Arnold Schwarzenegger, politician. He is, they say, neither a Republican nor a Democrat. No, Gov. Schwarzenegger is his own thing: A Progressive Libertarian for his bottom-line orientation, his optimism, and his belief not just in his own ability as a celebrity to effect change but in the power of the individual to effect change. We’re going to see more of this in the years to come, much more. And it will continue to confuse the state’s political punditry, for whom Schwarzenegger has little regard in part because of their reliance on the same tired old Democrat v. Republican tropes that are as dated as the paper they’re printed on.
Schwarzenegger’s straddle of party lines isn’t without purpose. And it’s not going to be without effect. Check out the massive week-long special project The Bee has done on how the once-Democratic strongholds around Sacramento are moving right. And why they’re moving. Add to that the support that’s slowly building for Controller Steve Westly and former LA Mayor Richard Riorden’s Prop. 62, the open primary initiative. Who hates it the most? Incumbent Democrats and Republicans.
Then pay attention to Schwarzenegger’s decision to rebid the San Francisco Bay Bridge project. There has not been any good reporting on this – would someone please, please, please go read those contracts and tell us what they say and who crafted them? – and there’s something funny going on here. The decades-long Bay Bridge retrofit smells like the classic reward-your-friends deal that’s come to characterize California politics, particularly politics run by Willie Brown. And while Willie and Arnold and former Sen. John Burton and Arnold can profess to be the best of friends, breaking up this party — that’s a pun — is in the governor’s long-term political interest.
As he was leaving the mayor’s office, Brown gave an interview in which he noted – in passing – that the sort of politics he practiced was no longer welcome. He is right. More right than he probably realized at the time. It is unthinkable that, as mayor, Brown would not have intervened in the hotel strike currently underway here in San Francisco. Inconceivable because Brown owes much of his success to – and is, in turn, owed by – the unions. Civic responsibility is back and Democratic back-scratching is fading away.
More than anything, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley’s downward spiral illustrates this. If you’re a Democrat and you want a look at how it’s going to be, take a look at Shelley and how he’s been treated by fellow Democrats. State Controller Steve Westly — the same guy who’s in favor of open primaries and who’s going to play an important role in Gov. Terminator’s California Performance Review — has launched an investigation of nonprofits that get state funding spend their money. Westly, like Schwarzenegger is a Progressive Libertarian.
In short, a more moderate course is being steered in the state than many are aware. Some of it’s flying under the banner of reform. That’s the mantra espoused by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and reform talk is becoming commonplace in the LA Mayor’s race, too. But if it’s rebuffed by the party, there’s trouble. This is a different kind of call, one away from the old – big “D” Democratic way of doing things and foot-dragging isn’t the best way to appeal to the state’s “independent” voters: its fastest-growing voting block. Which means that in four years California won’t be as safe a blue state as the party thinks it now is.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 3:36 PM | Permalink

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