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Governor promises a ‘post-partisan’ era

Times Staff Writer

Parting ways with national Republican Party leaders, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proudly proclaimed himself a centrist as he was sworn in for a second term Friday, holding that partisanship in California is in decline and promising to usher in a “post-partisan” approach to the state’s problems.

Schwarzenegger, in his first public appearance since breaking his leg while skiing two weeks ago, entered the stage at the imposing Memorial Auditorium from the rear, walking with a pair of metal crutches that he handed to his wife, Maria Shriver.

Placing his left hand on a family Bible, he raised his right as he took the oath of office, stumbling a bit on the final phrase, “the duties upon which I’m about to enter.” Shriver clutched his arm to provide support throughout.

The governor then took the crutches from her, walked carefully to the podium and delivered the 15-minute speech that opened his new and final term.

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Looking thinner since having surgery Dec. 26 to repair his right thigh bone, Schwarzenegger gave his strongest and clearest statement to date that he is displeased with the direction of his own party. He said he wants to chart a third way that combines elements of both Democratic and Republican ideologies.

“I believe that we have the opportunity to move past partisanship, past bipartisanship to post-partisanship,” the governor said before about 3,000 invited guests. “Post-partisanship is not simply Republicans and Democrats each bringing their proposals to the table and working out differences. Post-partisanship is Republicans and Democrats actively giving birth to new ideas together.

“I believe it would promote a new centrism and a new trust in our political system,” he said. “And I believe we have a window to do it right now.”

The address was written by a former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, Landon Parvin. But there appeared to be more Kennedy touches than Reaganisms.

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With his mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, watching from the stage with the governor’s wife and children, he said at one point: “We all breathe the same air.” President Kennedy used that phrase in a speech at American University in 1963.

In the address, Schwarzenegger focused on overarching themes and messages. A more detailed policy agenda will emerge in a trio of speeches he is to deliver next week, covering healthcare, the budget and his overall assessment of the state’s condition.

A carefully choreographed affair, the swearing-in at times seemed a cross between a presidential inauguration and the Grammy Awards. Jose Feliciano sang the National Anthem. Tony Award winner Jennifer Holliday sang, “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”

As the entertainers performed, Schwarzenegger clapped and smiled. But those who saw him on stage said it couldn’t have been easy.

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The governor delivered the speech in its entirety but without his usual gusto -- the emphasis and timing that communicate more than the words on the page.

“I think he’s hurting,” said state Senate Republican leader Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine).

Symbolizing his refusal to be typecast as a Republican, Schwarzenegger chose as his master of ceremonies former Democratic Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, a figure who has been despised by Republicans.

Brown kept things light, getting a laugh when he introduced California’s first lady as “foxy and sexy.”

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Still comparatively new to elective politics, Schwarzenegger said the governorship has forced him to rethink his political identity.

Before winning the recall campaign, he appeared at a California Republican Party convention and unabashedly described himself as a conservative. That’s what he resembled in 2005, when he called a special election to curb state spending and place restrictions on the way unions spend campaign money.

Voters rejected the governor’s ideas. The episode provoked a kind of awakening, he said, drawing an analogy from the New Testament.

Schwarzenegger said that “in my failure, I rediscovered my original purpose. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, I had an experience that opened my eyes.

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“And what was it that I saw? I saw that people, not just in California, but across the nation, were hungry for a new kind of politics, a politics that looks beyond the old labels, the old ways, the old arguments.”

Trends suggest that party loyalty in California is waning, the governor said. The future is one in which more people are unaligned -- another reason for eschewing partisanship.

“There are growing numbers of independent voters in this state,” he said. “In fact, if the current trend continues, they will outnumber each of the major parties in 20 years. They like some Republican ideas. They like some Democratic ideas.”

The speech seemed to answer one of the questions that abounded in the run-up to Schwarzenegger’s second term: Which version of the governor would show up?

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In 2004, he worked in a fairly bipartisan way with lawmakers, but by year’s end he had soured on the Legislature, calling Democratic lawmakers “girlie-men.” The following year he took a combative approach.

Last year, chastened by the special election, he made peace with Democratic leaders, a turn that revived his job approval rating, culminating in his decisive victory in the November election.

“My escapes have been more hair-raising than anything I’ve ever done in the movies,” the governor said, a laugh line he used early in his Friday address.

So convinced is Schwarzenegger that he has hit upon a winning political formula that he may travel to Iowa and New Hampshire during the 2008 presidential primary season, touting a centrist approach, aides said.

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Although the speech did not explicitly mention Washington D.C., Schwarzenegger’s advisors said privately that he was repudiating some of the tactics used by national Republicans to divide the electorate in hopes of winning elections.

The governor suggested that some positions among Republicans are indefensible. He made reference to scientific evidence that global warming is an emergency that requires immediate action.

One prominent Republican, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, once described global warming as a hoax.

“Should we do nothing about global warming on the slim chance a few skeptics who deny its existence may be right?” the governor said. “No, we should not.”

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One question the speech did not answer is what post-partisanship means in practice. What Schwarzenegger describes as “centrism” looks to some Republicans like surrender.

It will be difficult for the governor to make California a 21st-century model for the rest of society -- a goal he has set -- without Republican votes to pass his program.

Schwarzenegger will release an ambitious new healthcare program Monday calling for guaranteed medical coverage for all children, including illegal immigrants.

Some legislative Republicans say they will oppose any effort that requires more spending. The governor’s aim instead should be reducing a projected budget deficit of $5.5 billion, Republicans say.

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“We’ve already indicated that we don’t want any large new programs or any excessive spending,” Ackerman said. “And if he tries to incorporate those things in the budget, we’re not going to support it.”

Schwarzenegger set up a tax-exempt group to finance the inauguration. Such entities can accept unlimited donations, and the governor’s political team raised about $2.75 million to stage the swearing-in.

Insurers kicked in $205,000. HMOs, physicians groups, business lobbyists and others with a stake in the governor’s proposed healthcare overhaul donated tens of thousands of dollars.

After the ceremony, Schwarzenegger appeared at a luncheon for about 700 legislators, donors, aides and family members and supporters. He was in a good mood.

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He joked to Republican and Democratic lawmakers who had been on the stage with him at his swearing-in: “I saw some of you making out together behind me.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Excerpts from the governor’s inaugural remarks

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“In the 2005 special election, I took the wrong approach.... In my failure, I rediscovered my original purpose. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, I had an experience that opened my eyes.”

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“The people are disgusted with a mind-set that would rather get nothing done than accomplish something through compromise.”

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“We don’t need Republican roads or Democratic roads. We need roads. We don’t need Republican healthcare or Democratic healthcare. We need healthcare. We don’t need Republican clean air or Democratic clean air. We all breathe the same air. When California’s leaders have worked together, we have accomplished great things.”

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“I believe we have the opportunity to move past partisanship, past bipartisanship to post-partisanship.... Post-partisanship is Republicans and Democrats actively giving birth to new ideas together.”

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“The American people are instinctively centrist.... So should be our government. America’s political parties should return to the center. They should return to the center, where the people are.”

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“My dream is that California, the nation-state, the harmonious state, the prosperous state, the cutting-edge state, becomes a model not just for 21st century American society, but for the larger world.”

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“It’s been said that most places are united by their pasts ... but California is united by its future. Other places are united by what was, but we are united by what can be.”

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“I make this simple pledge to the people of California. I will look to the future. I will look to the center. I will look to the dreams of the people.”


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