Gov.’s Hands-On Efforts Should Earn a Cease-Fire


Give the guy credit. Score him some points.

Cut a little slack.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was an irresistible punching bag last year and he deserved all the pounding.

But now he’s showing signs of self-reform. Everyone should drop their dukes and take a breather. Listen and watch for a while.

Many critics -- especially the Democratic pols -- beat up on the governor in 2005 for his wasteful, inept job performance. Most voters agreed, based on polls and the special election results.


But this is a new year, and Schwarzenegger has begun performing as his critics demanded. Most notably:

* The governor and his advisors devoted a lot of time and effort to developing that $222-billion, 10-year infrastructure plan he announced in Thursday’s State of the State address. It’s detailed right down to specific interchange widenings and train track additions.

This is a real plan, even if there is room to quibble over particulars. It’s actually cooked. By contrast, last year’s Schwarzenegger “reforms” weren’t even half-baked. Some were so indigestible they had to be dumped.

Last January, the governor mostly offered only concepts and left it to others outside the Capitol to fill in the blanks. This year he’s pouring his own concrete.

In developing this plan, says one advisor who asked not to be identified, “The governor tried to make sure that every angle was thought through. He personally participated in a lot of the discussions.... People understood that things had to change from last year.”

* Schwarzenegger is submitting his proposals to the Legislature for serious negotiation and vetting. He’s bowing to the democratic system of checks and balances as envisioned by the Founders.


This way, ballot propositions have a much better chance of being massaged into bipartisan, quality products than they do in the politics-for-profit initiative process.

“I have learned my lesson,” the repentant governor told the Legislature. “The people ... sent a clear message: Cut the warfare, cool the rhetoric, find common ground and fix the problems together.”

Compare that to his 2005 State of the State speech when Schwarzenegger belligerently drew a line in the sand and subsequently got trampled.

* Schwarzenegger has been governing. And he is looking gubernatorial. A year ago, he still fruitlessly was trying to retain his image as a nonpolitical outsider, and getting little accomplished in Sacramento. In last week’s State of the State speech, he finally sounded more like a statesman than a showman.

He’ll need to stay in that role to sell lawmakers and voters on his colossal public works program.

“It’s important now for the governor to show a lot of strength and leadership,” says longtime Republican strategist Ken Khachigian. “He needs to go out and talk about the consequences of not acting. Not just using rhetoric, but walking people through it.


“I’m not talking about doing it at some mall out in Riverside. I’m talking about wearing a coat and tie and speaking to the L.A. Chamber of Commerce. Find forums where he goes in as governor and talks to opinion-makers.”

* This time, Schwarzenegger has picked the right topics -- problems that people personally care about. In 2005, he busted his biceps and squandered a year, plus the taxpayers’ money, on abstract notions of political and budget processing that glazed the eyes of most voters.

Nobody can argue that California today is equipped to handle its 37 million residents, let alone the 46 million projected to be here in 2025. At stake is our economic prosperity and quality of life.

They’re coming, whether we build it or not, as Schwarzenegger inferred.

Nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Elizabeth G. Hill last week reported that the state needs to invest $60 billion to $75 billion in infrastructure during the next five years alone. And that was based on an outdated 3-year-old study.

Over 10 years, the governor proposes to spend $107 billion on transportation -- new highways, carpool lanes, truck access to ports, commuter rail lines, bike paths. He’s also suggesting roughly $48 billion for school construction and modernization, $12 billion for higher education, $35 billion for flood control and water facilities, $17 billion for jails and prisons, and $3 billion for courts and such things as forest fire stations.

The plan would be financed by $68 billion in new state bond debt, tens of billions from local and federal taxpayers, and some user fees.


Sure, there’s a lot to argue about. For one thing, the governor is fantasizing if he thinks all this can be built without raising taxes, especially at the gas pump. High-speed rail, affordable housing and parks are noticeably missing from the wish list. But that’s for negotiating.

Maybe it’s too ambitious. After all, one governor and a Legislature -- especially a term-limited Legislature -- cannot bind their successors to any 10-year plan. Voters can later change their minds. But this is pessimistic nitpicking.

Sacramento needs to get out of park and make progress on solving California’s most critical problem: planning for the future.

Of course, Schwarzenegger thinks it will help him get reelected. But it also will help any supportive politician who isn’t personally running against him.

What’s noise-polluting is all the Democratic whining about Schwarzenegger stealing their ideas. They should declare victory and rejoice.

So far this year, the governor deserves cheers, not jeers.

George Skelton writes Monday and Thursday. Reach him at