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The Showdown

Oct
24
2005

Is Gov. Terminator terminal?
Mmmmm. Maybe. Yes, I know, the political establishment would love to say “yes.” It makes them feel better, like the idea of Republican movie star politicians is a complete non-starter.
It’s not, of course. Democrats have actor-pols, too, and one, Warren Beatty is threatening to run, pushing the two current no-name Democrats out of the way. The thought of a race between Beatty and Arnold Schwarzenegger ought to make every woman in the state laugh until she cries: The Skirt-chaser v. The Groper with Maria and Annette, two Brentwood housewives who make their livings in front of the cameras, by their respective sides. Sigh.
It could come to that – and honestly, I’d love to cover it – but first we’ve got to get past this ridiculous special election, scheduled for November 8. The ballot is the usual mish-mash of issues designed to bring out what politicians like to call “the base” – hardcore supports who will do what the man says. Arnold, being the man and “the base” in this case being the frustrated and pissed-off voters of California who put him in office in the first place.
Thinking that the people – Oh, there they are again! – would rise up and do what Gov. Terminator asked, Schwarzenegger decided to have a show-down with the state legislature. That was a miscalculation on Schwarzenegger’s part, a symptom of how his administration has gone off the rails and indulged his celebrity status over the need to exercise a little political finesse. He packed the ballot with measures designed to consolidate power in the gov’s office (that’s the budget measure, Prop 76), take some power away from the unions (no spending on candidates or politics without a membership vote, Prop 75), and start to weaken the teachers’ union (by increasing the time for tenure, Prop 74).
But the ballot – I have mine right here in front of me – also includes two measures covering prescription drugs (Prop 78 and Prop 79, which are on the back of my ballot) and an anti-abortion measure requiring girls to ask their parents’ permission to have an abortion (Prop 73). And, finally, there’s redistricting (Prop 77) which Democrats – and Republicans – are fighting tooth and nail. California’s legislature may be filled with party hacks and lightweights but they’ve been at all of this a whole lot longer than Schwarzenegger and, with their allies, the unions, they aren’t afraid to play rough.
Which brings us to what redistrcting is really about and why Schwarzenegger should not be counted out.
In a thoughtful and smart piece in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, San Francisco bureau chief Dean Murphy takes a look at what people want when they call for redistricting, which has been something of a calling card for Schwarzenegger in his talk about cleaning up Sacramento. The simple answer, says Murphy, is that voters want change – they want politicians to stop being what they don’t want and start being what they do want. But that’s about as far as they get. Because, in the long run, redistricting doesn’t solve that problem.
But the frustration that Murphy talks about is one reason not to count Schwarzenegger out. His reform message is a powerful one – that’s why he got asked to visit Ohio to help with that state’s redistricting efforts. And it’s clear – everywhere you look – that dissatisfaction with politics and politicians is very high. Schwarzenegger was re-elected by frustrated voters, two years ago. And their frustration – the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the pending indictments in Washington – are growing every day, not just in California but across the country.
In that respect, Schwarzenegger is a politician for our time. He is also remarkably resiliant with a wonderful ability to bring people to his side with his goofy plain-spokeness and his happy grin. When he keeps his crude, taunting body-builder’s personality out of the limelight, he does well: he’s funny and fearless. He’s also learned a big lesson and he’s learned it the hard way. He is not above nuts-and-bolts politicking as much as he – and his idealized image of “the people” – makes him think he is. If the special election falls flat – in turn-out or in failure for the initiatives he’s endorsed – that lesson won’t be lost on anyone else, either.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 10:37 AM | Permalink

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