Schwarzenegger to Push Agenda in Key Districts

Times Staff Writers

As his administration negotiates with legislators behind closed doors in Sacramento, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to spend much of next week shuttling between the Capitol and the districts of Democratic lawmakers to promote his spending cap and bond proposals.

The Republican governor is scheduled to visit San Diego on Tuesday, Bakersfield on Thursday and Tracy in the Central Valley on Friday. Those are areas where he ran strong in the Oct. 7 recall race and where legislators are moderate Democrats, many with plans to run for reelection or other offices next year, according to two gubernatorial aides.

Such Democrats should be allies of the centrist governor in the effort to pass his fiscal program, Schwarzenegger's aides said, but for the most part have not pledged their support.

He could add stops in other districts to his schedule as the week progresses, a senior aide said. Details of his trip have not been formally announced, and lawmakers apparently were unaware of them this week.

Schwarzenegger wants the Legislature to put on the March 2 ballot his proposals for a limit on state spending and a bond issue to cover up to $15 billion in government deficits. In his appearances, the governor will push Friday as a deadline for legislative action. That is the last day, according to the secretary of state, that new measures can be added to the March ballot.

Some Democrats and Republicans have taken issue with Schwarzenegger's proposals. Some have said he has not offered enough detail; others favor spending cuts or tax increases as alternatives to borrowing. The governor has promised -- deadpan, Terminator-style -- to exact "severe casualties" in state elections next March and November if his program, which he calls the "California recovery plan," is not approved by the Legislature.

"He'll take his case to the people and visit some of those districts if he needs to ... in order to make the case that the California recovery plan that he's proposed is really what is needed," Rob Stutzman, his communications director, said this week.

Stutzman said that although many legislators talk about cooperation, some "want to sit back and be critics instead of helping to participate in solutions. And for some of them, they'll have to make decisions about what that means for them back home in their districts."

Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe, a San Diego Democrat who is running for state Senate next year and is a target of Schwarzenegger's Tuesday stop, called the strategy "unsettling."

"I hope some of this stuff is posturing by his advisors to put the fear of God in legislators," Kehoe said, adding that the governor's proposed bond is too big. She also wonders whether his spending cap will be useful, since the Legislature has ignored previous limits. "I think there's a lot of good cop-bad cop going on," she said.

While members of his administration have haggled with lawmakers, Schwarzenegger has tried to stay above the fray, charming individual legislators in small meetings while devoting the bulk of his energies to selling his policies to the public. Although the governor called the Legislature into special sessions Nov. 17 -- the day he was sworn in -- Schwarzenegger has spent just six days in the capital since becoming governor.

Republican consultant Dan Schnur said a lack of public attention to Sacramento has often meant that legislators could take positions that might be unpopular with their constituents. But "Schwarzenegger brings with him a megaphone big enough to make sure that those voters hear about it," Schnur said.

Political strategist Arnold Steinberg said he could not recall another governor making such district visits so early in his administration. "I think it's bold," he said. "It shows how committed he is to his program."

Even as they planned the governor's stump trips, his aides sought to lower expectations. Schwarzenegger's appearances will not be a bus tour like the one that capped his gubernatorial campaign, they said. And during the Christmas shopping season, they don't expect the overflow crowds that showed up for Schwarzenegger's pre-election rallies.

The governor, who in his appearances will call for "action not delay," will not name the targeted lawmakers but instead encourage legislators generally to let the people vote and encourage citizens to call their Assembly and Senate representatives, aides said.

In San Diego, the governor's targets include not only Kehoe but also state Sens. Dede Alpert and Denise Ducheny and Assemblyman Juan Vargas, a gubernatorial aide said. Alpert said she even met Tuesday with Schwarzenegger at the governor's invitation, and expressed her concern about some elements of his proposed spending cap, such as the power it would give the governor to decide spending priorities.

"He said, 'You know we're open to other ideas. We need to have a spending cap, but we're not set in concrete as to what it has to be,' " Alpert said. "That was encouraging. His response wasn't, 'We'll see that you get fired in the next election.' "

Bakersfield is part of the districts of Assemblywoman Nicole Parra (D-Hanford) and state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter). Florez, who describes himself as perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, said the prospect of a Schwarzenegger visit "can't help but weigh on my mind."

Such tactics could make it more difficult for the governor to get Democratic votes in future fights, Florez said.

"He's got to think more about how do we bring folks in and get them to work with us rather than 'my way or the highway,' " Florez said. "If that's the case, some of us might not be there for the governor."

Schwarzenegger's targets in Tracy will include state Sen. Mike Machado (D-Linden) and Assemblywoman Barbara Matthews (D-Tracy). Cathleen Galgiani, chief of staff for Matthews, a moderate, said, "The new governor will find Barbara to be a good ally," particularly in battling Medi-Cal fraud, one of Schwarzenegger's stated goals.

Aides to the governor expressed hope that his appearance in Tracy would also win notice in the Bay Area districts of state Sen. Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) and Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla (D-Pittsburg).

Like some lawmakers, Torlakson said he would be happy to have Schwarzenegger in his district because it could contribute to a healthy debate on the weighty fiscal decisions facing the state. Canciamilla, a moderate who has teamed up with Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge) on a spending cap proposal of their own, said he was less concerned with political pressure than with the lack of details in Schwarzenegger's proposals.

Canciamilla said he shares the governor's sense of urgency about the deadline for the March ballot and would have been happy to work through the Thanksgiving weekend toward a resolution on the proposed spending limit. But he said he couldn't locate anyone in the Schwarzenegger administration Wednesday who was authorized to negotiate on the subject.

"If he wants to use his political capital coming out to districts," Canciamilla said, "my response is: 'Whoever's handling your schedule for all of those visits, you should put them in charge of negotiating' " with the Legislature.

State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley), who may run for an Assembly seat before his Senate term expires in 2006, said he wonders about the impact of Schwarzenegger's visits, including one the governor made to his own district last week. Schwarzenegger held a rally Nov. 20 at Galpin Ford there. Media reports emphasized Schwarzenegger's appearance with the car dealer, a major campaign donor, but ignored what aides later said was the rally's true target: Alarcon.

The senator said he does not see himself as an opponent of the governor. In a private meeting, Alarcon said, he told Schwarzenegger that he supports his bond proposal but wants to find a tax to fund the borrowing so the senator's grandchildren don't end up paying for it.

Despite Schwarzenegger's call in his district for voters to urge their legislators to back the bond and spending cap, Alarcon said he has received just five e-mails on the subject, three supporting the governor and two opposed.

"It wasn't a big response," he said.

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