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Back to Politics as Usual, More or Less

Times Staff Writer

If the historic recall election three years ago upended California politics, the race between Democrat Phil Angelides and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 has returned the political system to its regularly scheduled programming.

Between state Treasurer Angelides and the incumbent Gov. Schwarzenegger, there is little talk about sweeping away special interests or transforming the political system as we know it.

Instead, potential voters have been given a choice between established politicians from the two major parties, each with traditional corporate or union backers, each with slightly different but relatively mainstream views on public policy.

Still, an unusual and important factor hangs over the campaign, and brings a benefit to the incumbent: Schwarzenegger’s status as a worldwide celebrity.

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“That celebrity has consistently brought out more media coverage, more cameras, than anything I have seen at an Angelides event,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a USC professor and expert on California politics. “It must be terribly frustrating for Angelides.”

Few jobs in the United States are as powerful as California governor. Only the president and the Chicago mayor make more political appointments. The Legislature sends more than 1,000 bills to the governor every year. The vast state bureaucracy regulates nearly every aspect of California life. It provides healthcare and educates millions.

When voters choose the next person for that powerful job, their choice will look much like offerings from the past: a liberal Democrat against a centrist Republican. When Angelides and Schwarzenegger differ, there are few surprises.

That’s the case on many issues -- for example, on immigration, one of the most important to voters, according to recent polls.

Angelides and Schwarzenegger agree that illegal immigrants should be “put on a path to citizenship,” but only after paying a fine and back taxes, learning English and getting in line behind people who are attempting to become citizens legally. Both have called for a more civil debate on the explosive issue.

The two men’s biggest difference concerns the California National Guard. Angelides says he would not use federalized state troops to police the U.S.-Mexico border. Schwarzenegger sent more than 1,000 troops to the border on a limited deployment at the request of President Bush to back up federal border agents, but rejected a later Bush administration call for more.

Even the supposedly sharp contrast between Angelides and Schwarzenegger on the subject of raising taxes is fuzzier than both sides admit.

Yes, Angelides wants to raise taxes -- on California’s wealthiest couples, while offering tax cuts to the middle class. Schwarzenegger would have voters believe that Angelides is salivating over $18 billion in planned tax increases in the event that he gets into office, a figure that is clearly wrong.

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Yes, Schwarzenegger is holding firm against tax increases, a politically popular position. But he’s hardly a fiscal conservative. He has presided over a 26% increase in state government spending, and approved higher fees and tuition at California’s public colleges -- which some call a tax by another name.

He also proposed $68 billion in borrowing to shore up the state’s faltering infrastructure system. The Legislature sliced that approximately in half, putting $37 billion in bonds on next month’s ballot for voters to approve.

Angelides, with the help of his union supporters and a traditional Democratic message, survived the June primary by defeating state Controller Steve Westly.

But the bitter race left his campaign nearly broke, and battered by the impression that he had polluted Lake Tahoe or was beholden to developers.

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Schwarzenegger, who had no Republican primary opponent, immediately fired up his campaign. The day after the primary, he launched ads against Angelides alleging that the treasurer would take California backward. And he hammered the tax issue so much that the treasurer had a hard time recovering. Since early summer, Angelides has lagged well behind Schwarzenegger in the polls.

“I can tell by the joy I see in your eyes that you love to raise taxes,” the governor said to Angelides during their recent debate in Sacramento, the only one scheduled between the two. “Why don’t you just say right now, ‘I love increasing your taxes.’ ”

Incumbent governors come with considerable political advantages, not the least of which is the veto pen. Schwarzenegger has used his office, and the power of the veto threat, to negotiate big legislative deals with the Democrats who control the Legislature. One example was a bill to curb California’s contribution to global warming, putting the state at the forefront of a global issue.

The bipartisan efforts have gone a long way for Schwarzenegger, according to the polls, to assure voters that he has abandoned the confrontational tone of his disastrous 2005 special election.

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Many of Angelides’ strongest supporters have appeared on stages with the governor -- political symbolism he dearly needed after the bruising special election.

But Schwarzenegger’s political transformation also has provided a contrast for Angelides to exploit. He has been hammering the governor for supporting Bush during a critical time in the president’s 2004 reelection campaign, suggesting that the Republican governor is far more conservative than he lets on.

“The fact is, when you speak like this you sound just like Newt Gingrich,” Angelides told Schwarzenegger at the debate.

“You sound like Speaker Hastert. You sound like George Bush attacking me on taxes.”

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Angelides says voters will turn on the governor over the issue of trust, a word he used multiple times when the two candidates debated in Sacramento.

On the campaign trail, he notes repeatedly that the governor has had multiple political personas since being elected in 2003.

The challenger’s central question has been: Which governor can we expect? The reformer of 2004, the conservative of 2005 or the centrist of 2006?

Whichever candidate you believe, the race has put California a long way from the turbulent recall days, and handed voters something familiar: politics as usual.

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robert.salladay@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

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Arnold Schwarzenegger

Party: Republican

Occupation: Governor of California

Age: 59; born in Graz, Austria.

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Residence: Los Angeles (Brentwood)

Personal: Married; four children.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business and international economics, University of Wisconsin-Superior, 1979.

Career highlights: As a bodybuilder, won 13 championship titles; was the subject of “Pumping Iron,” a 1977 documentary about bodybuilding, and went on to star in many films; in 1990, was named chairman of the Presidential Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under President George H. W. Bush; sponsored Proposition 49, a ballot measure approved in 2002 to increase funding for after-school programs.

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Platform: Job creation through economic development and promotion of the California economy; no tax increases; curbs on greenhouse gases through regulation on business; $37 billion in bonds to rebuild state infrastructure.

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Party: Democratic

Occupation: State treasurer

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Age: 53; born in Sacramento.

Residence: Sacramento

Personal: Married; three children.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in government, Harvard University, 1974.

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Career highlights: Employed in state government 1975 to 1983; private developer 1984 to 1998; chairman of the California Democratic Party 1991 to 1993; state treasurer 1999 to present.

Platform: Cut taxes for middle class and increase taxes on couples making more than $500,000 a year; lower tuition and fees at Cal State and University of California schools; regulate salaries of health maintenance organization executives; require large companies to provide health coverage for employees.

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On the issues

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This is where the governor and his challenger stand on some issues important to Californians:

*--* Issue Arnold Schwarzenegger Phil Angelides Immigration/border Sent California National Guard Believes that to the border, for limited time illegal and scope. Vetoed bills allowing immigrants driver’s licenses for illegal should be put immigrants. Wants on “path to temporary-worker program for citizenship” illegal immigrants. Wants after paying a Congress to lift cap on work fine and visas for technology, submitting to engineering and agriculture background industries. Believes that check; pay illegal immigrants should pay a back taxes fine and back taxes and learn owed; learn English and U.S. culture. English and American civics. Would remove California National Guard troops from border duties.

Taxes Would not raise taxes. Has said Would create increased government spending earned tax should come from economic growth credit up to and resulting increase in tax $660 for revenues. families earning less than $100,000 a year and increase the dependent credit by $200 per child. Would increase rent and homeowners assistance to seniors and disabled by 50%, but increase tax rate on couples earning more than $500,000 a year.

Environment Helped negotiate legislation Wants to cap requiring 25% reduction in greenhouse gas greenhouses gases by 2020, emissions in regulated by the Air Resources California by Board. Has fought offshore oil 25% in the drilling leases but favors next decade. offshore liquefied natural gas Wants to facility. convert all state and local government cars and buses to cleaner vehicles. Would increase funding for the Coastal Commission and require lobbyists to register and disclose contacts with the commission. Would fight for permanent federal ban on oil and gas drilling off California coast.

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Healthcare Wants to make healthcare his Wants to 2007 agenda if reelected. Has require generally called for insuring companies with all California children and more than 200 bringing down high costs in employees to hospital and healthcare provide health industry. coverage to workers and their families and to force drug companies to provide “affordable” prescription drugs. Would allow “safe and legal” drug purchases over the Internet and increase government spending to reduce asthma.

Education Supports $10.4-billion Would set a infrastructure bond on ballot to goal to reduce build public schools. Has public school increased school funding by $8.1 dropouts by billion. Raised Cal State 25,000 a year University and University of with targeted California fees, then approved grants. Would cap on future increases. double the Supports high school exit exam. number of high school counselors and recruit and train 40,000 teachers. Would roll back college tuition and fee hikes at Cal State University and University of California campuses.

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Source: Times reporting

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Los Angeles Times

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Run for money

The contributions count this year has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ahead of Democratic challenger Phil Angelides by nearly two to one:

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Schwarzenegger -- $32,741,662

Angelides -- $17,066,230

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Source: California Secretary of State

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