AFTER HIS HISTORIC ELECTION in the 2003 recall, followed by some early promise and a disappointing sophomore year, Arnold Schwarzenegger has been a solid, pragmatic governor who has steered a moderate course for California. He deserves a sequel.
In the last year, the Republican has formed relationships with legislative leaders that focused the usually fractious and often obstructive Democrats on a productive agenda. Together, they have given Californians a historic law to combat global warming, a prescription drug plan and a reasonable increase in the minimum wage. If he is reelected, the governor says, "we're going to continue in a bipartisan way."
That's encouraging — and there's reason to believe it's not simply a sound bite. The governor says he now realizes he made a mistake last year in trying to strong-arm the Legislature and browbeat the voters with his ill-advised and ill-fated special election. And a look at his track record suggests that Schwarzenegger is more comfortable the closer he is to California's center of political gravity.
In fact, he may embody it. On the environment, on stem cell research and on reproductive choice, he has distinguished himself from the Bush administration and other conservatives on the national scene. He respects the still-thriving spirit of the state's taxpayer revolt yet also understands California's heritage of building for the future.
His priorities for the next term, Schwarzenegger says, include reforming the state's dysfunctional prisons and another try at fixing California's jury-rigged redistricting system. His previous attempts to address both problems failed miserably. Paradoxically, however, he may be in a better position to address these issues — and others, such as the state's structural budget deficit — because he is a Republican. A little partisanship can be healthy in Sacramento, if it serves as a check on the excesses of the legislative or executive branch. And Schwarzenegger and the Democrats in the Legislature now better understand how they give each other political cover.
No such dynamic would exist if Schwarzenegger's opponent, Democratic state Treasurer Phil Angelides, were elected. Some of his criticisms of the governor are valid; Angelides is correct to note that Schwarzenegger is too hazy about how he plans to close the state's perpetual budget shortfall. To the extent that the challenger is more candid, however, his prescription of raising some personal income and corporate taxes is the wrong one.
Schwarzenegger correctly senses that a leader with good instincts and confidence is more effective — and more inspiring — than one with a good plan and a lot of details. Angelides may be more specific about many of California's problems. But Schwarzenegger is more likely to solve them. The Times endorses Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor.