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The War Between the States, Arnold-Style

Patt Morrison's e-mail address is patt.morrison@latimes.com.

Ladies, gentlemen -- California is at war.

Other states are on the attack, trying to violate our sovereignty, pick our pockets, drain our brains.

Our governor saw the enemies, and rather than waiting until they brought the war here -- to Yorba Linda and McKittrick, to Coarsegold and Lompoc -- he took the war to the evildoers. In Nevada. In Massachusetts. Anywhere that other governors want to steal our commerce, despoil our businesses, siphon away our talent and treasure, Arnold Schwarzenegger acted boldly.

In August, he clambered aboard an 18-wheeler bearing the words “Arnold’s Moving Company” and rolled into the belly of the beast, onto the Las Vegas Strip. To runaway companies, he was saying: Come back, all is forgiven -- and cheaper.

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He raised up recruitment billboards in other states. “Arnold says: California Wants Your Business.” There he was, like an I-Want-You Uncle Sam who could bench-press Panama, looking aggressively confident in a California T-shirt, arms folded, fists pushing out his already topographical biceps.

Even today the enemy is opening up a second front in the state. At one soft target, the corner of Hollywood and Vine, an eight-story banner, the sly handiwork of Nevada, is being unfurled: “Will your business be terminated?” California, it says, is getting beaten black and blue by taxes, fees, workers’ comp rates. Come do business in our state, it hints, where your employees won’t give you any problems.

Last week, Massachusetts went on the offensive, putting up billboards in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles with the image of its own governor, Mitt Romney -- Mitt, as in oven mitt -- mocking Schwarzenegger: “Smaller muscles, but lower taxes! Massachusetts means business!” Lower-tax talk, from the governor of John Kerry’s state? Of Schwarzenegger’s uncle-in-law’s state? Does the Bush campaign know this?

Romney organized the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics -- big deal. Our governor was Mister Olympia, seven times. And what about Nevada’s Republican governor, Kenny Guinn? Grew up in the Central Valley, met his wife there, got two degrees in PE from Fresno State, then -- wham, bam, thank you California -- wound up in Nevada. Now he wants other Californians to abandon their homeland too.

The evidence of weapons of mass redirection began when the world drained away American jobs and states were left to fight over what was left. During the recession of the 1990s, business folk charted departing California enterprises as if they were plotting the launch patterns of ICBMs, and swore that California was a bad product, workers’ comp was a mess (it was) and energy costs were too high (they were, after Pete Wilson deregulated electricity and hung a “Hey Enron, Kick Me” sign on California’s rear end).

Then North Carolina started with the sweet talk, and Florida and New Jersey -- flashing a little tax-break cleavage, fluttering the workers’ comp come-on.

On cue, on message, Schwarzenegger leaped in to rescue California’s virtue, and its tax base. Yellow ribbons on every Joshua tree. Come home to California. Last month he sent a truck to help a sign company move back to La Verne after more than a dozen years in Vegas exile. (The head of the Nevada Development Authority said his state still had “won the hand. It’s aces and eights for us.” Any poker player knows that aces and eights is the dead man’s hand, the cards “Wild Bill” Hickok was supposedly holding when he was shot dead.)

Three Republican governors mixing it up. Imagine how ugly that might get: In a photo op, Romney takes a few whacks at chopping down the Arnold billboards in Massachusetts, and Schwarzenegger accuses him of being part of the axes of evil. Schwarzenegger offers CEOs who come here a photo with him in the cigar tent outside his Capitol office. Guinn pledges that manufacturers who abandon California for Nevada can pay their employees in poker chips. Upping the ante, Romney promises turncoat CEOs an honorary doctorate from Harvard Business School. Guinn swears that Nevada will henceforth have zero workers’ comp costs, period. (On the quiet, Nevada begins dressing up injured workers as tourists and busing them to Tijuana to be dumped into the lap of the Mexican healthcare system.) Romney, desperate, classifies Starbucks baristas as manufacturers and declares a new “Massachusetts Miracle.” Finally, East Timor sprints from the back of the pack and underbids them all: Its workers are so happy to have jobs at all that they’ll kick back 50% of their wages to the company.

California can be comforted with this: We’ll never lose the porn industry to Massachusetts or even Canada. Why? Because on high-definition TV, every single goose bump would show.


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