Gov. Tries to Calm GOP Anger
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to narrow his rift with conservatives Saturday by casting himself as tougher on illegal immigration than his Democratic challenger, Phil Angelides, but failed to quell a Republican revolt over his call for billions in borrowing for housing and school construction.
At a time when Republican candidates nationwide are tapping public anger over illegal immigration, Schwarzenegger made his most aggressive move to date to turn the issue to his advantage against Angelides.
The Republican governor told party loyalists at a state GOP convention in Century City that he had put National Guard troops on the Mexican border -- as demanded by President Bush -- to help federal authorities “get their act together.”
“My opponent wants to pull the National Guard off the border,” Schwarzenegger told the crowd of several hundred in a hotel ballroom. “He wants to give undocumented workers California driver’s licenses. His policies are disastrous.”
Schwarzenegger’s record on immigration has drawn the anger of many conservatives who consider his position too lax. At the party convention, some delegates, along with Republican U.S. Senate nominee Richard Mountjoy, took exception to Schwarzenegger’s support for a guest worker program and a plan to put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.
“I disagree with the governor on that issue, as does almost every other statewide candidate” on the Republican ticket, Mountjoy said.
To quiet conservative grumbling, Schwarzenegger also pounded Angelides, the state treasurer, for supporting higher taxes.
Waving a fist in the air, the governor said his rival “wants to increase the car tax, the sales tax, the property tax, the farm-equipment tax, the income tax, the alcohol tax, and he even wants to tax you when you go and get a tune-up for your car.” (Apart from a plan to raise income taxes for the well-to-do, Angelides has renounced those past positions.)
The boisterous call-and-response that ensued belied the tension between the moderate governor and the conservatives who dominate the state party organization. “What do we say to more taxes?” he shouted.
“No!” they called back.
“What do we say to more government spending?”
But Schwarzenegger’s own record on state spending stirred an open rebellion. His political team scrambled to gain the party’s formal support for $42 billion in construction bonds on the Nov. 7 ballot, but some delegates called the borrowing fiscally irresponsible.
A party committee refused to endorse all of the bond measures, which would fund the most costly state building program in California history. Instead, the panel defied Schwarzenegger by voting to oppose a $2.8-billion housing plan (Proposition 1C) and take no stand on a $10.4-billion school construction proposal (Proposition 1D). The committee also rejected Schwarzenegger’s request for party backing of Proposition 84, a $5.4-billion batch of water projects.
Still, the committee agreed to his request for party support for a $19.9-billion roads-and-ports plan (Proposition 1B) and $4.1 billion in disaster preparation projects, including levee repairs (Proposition 1E).
The panel’s actions, which are up for a ratification vote today, followed sharp remarks by conservative critics of Schwarzenegger’s fiscal record. Anti-tax advocate Tom Hudson of Placer County also told the party committee that Democrats who control the Legislature could not be trusted to spend the construction money wisely.
“We are giving them a giant blank check, and I guarantee you that’s not going to work out well if you live in a Republican’s district,” he said.
The party gathering illustrated the delicate balance that Schwarzenegger must strike to maintain his strong core of conservative support while reaching out to moderates whose votes he also needs to win.
Even as he took a tough posture on immigration and taxes Saturday, Schwarzenegger kept his distance from Mountjoy and several other more conservative candidates on his party’s statewide ticket in the Nov. 7 election.
All of them crave the media attention he draws because none is well known, yet Schwarzenegger appeared alone on stage and did not mention their names. (Democrats have tried to spotlight the Republican ticket’s lack of diversity, which could dampen Schwarzenegger’s appeal. It is composed of seven white men.)
This morning, Schwarzenegger will underscore his calculated detachment from his party’s conservative wing with a visit to First AME Church in South Los Angeles. It is one of California’s largest black churches and normally a must stop for Democrats, but Angelides has yet to request a chance to visit, as Schwarzenegger did, said Kerman Maddox, who handles political matters for the church.
In response to Schwarzenegger, Angelides told reporters in a conference call that the governor was using illegal immigration to stir up voters and “doing what his Bush-Cheney campaign team told him to do ... which is to distort, distort, distort, scare, scare, scare, lie, lie, lie.”
“Now he is hearing footsteps from the right wing of his party and he is kowtowing to them, raising the issue of immigration to inflame the passions of his right-wing base,” Angelides said. “It’s sad the governor is doing this, and it shows he doesn’t have core values.”
About two dozen opponents of illegal immigration staged a rally outside the convention hotel on Avenue of the Stars, where they waved U.S. flags and complained about Schwarzenegger and Bush. Inside, Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman citizen border patrol group, said the governor had “better start telling people whether he is for open borders or for protecting California.”
“I assume what he had to say on immigration was probably something ineffectual, innocuous and a display of his inability to engage in tough love, which is a necessity for good leadership,” said Gilchrist, who did not hear the governor’s speech.
The Republicans running for other statewide jobs were relegated to a smaller crowd at a Friday dinner, where their speeches were punctuated by bursts of “You’re a Grand Old Flag” from a brass band on stage behind them.
Claude Parrish, the nominee for treasurer, reminisced about working for President Nixon’s 1972 campaign for reelection. He also fondly recalled the Republican winner of the 1966 treasurer’s race. “Ivy Baker Priest did a darn good job, and I’m going to try and follow in her footsteps,” he said.
Chuck Poochigian, the Fresno state senator running for attorney general, unleashed a blistering attack on his Democratic rival, former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, saying the Oakland mayor had long been on the “kooky fringe of politics and policy.”
“He turned our Supreme Court into a national laughingstock,” Poochigian said.
Steve Poizner, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who faces Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in the race for insurance commissioner, mocked his Democratic opponent for suggesting that his effort to lose weight could inspire others to do the same, lowering insurance costs as the obesity epidemic wanes.
“I’m the lucky guy who gets to run against Cruz Bustamante,” Poizner said.
Also hammering Democrats were Republican controller hopeful Tony Strickland and the evening’s emcee, lieutenant governor candidate Tom McClintock, who called the coming election a stark choice between contrasting fiscal policies.
“It is a choice between a leadership team with a proven record of reducing the taxes and the regulations that have been crushing Californians and a leadership team with a proven record of increasing those burdens,” he said.
In response, state Democratic Party spokesman Jeff Millman said: “It’s unfortunate the Republican candidates were spewing hatred and personal attacks rather than explaining how they are going to improve people’s lives.”