For Arnold, it’s back to 2005

Posted July 2, 2009

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, coming off a crushing special-election defeat, decides to re-make his image. The Times weighs in, affixing messages Schwarzenegger ought to glean from voters' rebuke, suggesting it's time for the state to move in a new direction to address its perennial budget woes.

Welcome back to 2005.

Part of living in a state beset by the constant threat of financial doom is hearing the same arguments every few years about lessons learned from the crisis du jour. Much like 2009, in 2005 Schwarzenegger embraced an image that was once popular but had since fallen out of favor with voters; the difference then was that the governor was a populist anti-tax conservative who shunned negotiating with the Democratic-majority state Legislature, banking on his popularity with voters to give him what he wanted. And just like in 2009, Schwarzenegger failed in 2005. He later reached out to Democrats, re-gained much of his popularity and easily won-reelection in 2006 as a "post-partisan" pragmatist. Having ridden that bounce to the 2009 special election (in which Schwarzenegger and a coalition of Democrats and Republicans supported the May 19 budget-reform measures, which included tax increases) only to endure another thumping from voters, the governor has gone back to his anti-tax, budget-cutting ways. Call it the rise and fall and rise and fall (and perhaps another rise?) of Arnold Schwarzenegger. You have to hand it to the governor – he loses elections only when he's not a candidate.

Below are three editorials written by The Times in response to the governor's defeat in the November 2005 special election. Note that in the first editorial, the final several paragraphs could essentially be copied verbatim for an editorial today.

November 09, 2005
Voters just say no

Special elections are no longer so special for the governor who was dispatched to Sacramento two years ago to fix state government in an extraordinary recall election.

On Tuesday, the governor's two most important proposals -- Propositions 76 and 77, constitutional amendments intended to bolster the governor's power to address the state's financial crises and to take the power of drawing voting districts away from the Legislature -- lost by wide margins.

That's good news and bad news. The state does need to become more adept at balancing its books, but Proposition 76 would have gone too far in altering the balance of power

between the governor and the Legislature. Proposition 77, on the other hand, was a worthy attempt to stop incumbent-protecting gerrymandering, and its failure should be mourned.

Compounding the sense of an electorate wary of the entire process, and of the deluge of ads that a quarter-billion dollars (a record) bought, voters resoundingly rejected both propositions dealing with prescription drugs, along with a measure about energy regulation. Proposition 73, which ill-advisedly requires parental notification for an abortion for a minor, also seemed headed for defeat. The vote tally on Proposition 75, which would require public employee unions to seek permission from members before dues can be spent on political activities, was too close to call as we write this, suggesting that the governor's message that those unions wield too much power in Sacramento still had some resonance.

But no amount of political spin can alter the perception that the governor, who a year ago seemed invincible, has suffered a staggering defeat. The logical message of this election for him is that voters want him to get back to the business of governing. But, of course, the trouble with holding this special election in the first place is that it will soon be followed by, well, the ordinary election season, depriving the governor and the Democratic leaders in Sacramento of time to catch their breaths or to pretend to hunker down to do some actual governing.

Democrats are likely to see Arnold Schwarzenegger, wounded by the enmity of firefighters, teachers and police who opposed his anti-union agenda, as vulnerable in a 2006 reelection fight. They may simply refuse to sit down and compromise, assuming they can win back the governorship.

That's a shame. Voters really do want better schools, a balanced state budget, safe communities and better streets and highways. But they are really tired of being asked to pass all the laws themselves.

November 10, 2005
After the fall

What now? That's the question Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders will address in their first post-election meeting today. Tuesday's fiasco, in which every item on the state ballot was rejected by voters, could at least have one positive effect if it prompts both sides to sit down and get serious about negotiating. The thing California needs most now is strong governance and leadership, something that was missing for nearly all of 2005 because of the bitter partisanship stirred by Schwarzenegger's special election.

The governor once again is holding out the olive branch to his Democratic foes. It's a welcome change for Schwarzenegger, who has been in conservative attack mode for so long that there was some question whether he could ever return to being the negotiator and facilitator who worked so well with lawmakers in 2004.

The first priority is to fix the state's budget problem. Each year, California spends billions of dollars more than it brings in. This has to stop. Democrats and Republicans understand that but have clashed over how to do it. Everything must be on the table as the governor and leaders of both parties negotiate a solution. That includes a possible tax increase -- perhaps a temporary one. The GOP must swallow hard and accept that. In turn, Democrats must be willing to restrain growth in some entitlement programs and public employee pension systems.

Democratic leaders must exercise some independence and demonstrate that they do not march in lock step with their allies, berated all year by Schwarzenegger as the "union bosses." In turn, the governor must make the agenda his agenda, not that of the state Chamber of Commerce and anti-tax groups.

Some claim that nothing is likely to get done in 2006 because it's an election year. Not necessarily. Some election-year legislative sessions have been remarkably productive. And the governor desperately needs some successes going into his reelection campaign. His popularity with voters already had dipped to 40% before the election.

The Legislature's public image is even worse than the governor's -- only 21% approval in the most recent Times Poll. Most individual lawmakers will have no problem getting reelected. But Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) should be interested in improving the Legislature's overall image with a year of achievement.

Both legislators and the governor should remember that voters tend to curse all equally when things are going badly. And it's clear now that Schwarzenegger needs much more than his movie-star image and popularity to be an effective leader. The governor was at his best while negotiating with legislative leaders in his smoking tent on the Capitol patio in 2004, not while putting on staged campaign events to tout his agenda to voters.

Break out the tent poles again, Governor.

December 11, 2005
Damaged goods no more

Back in 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger vilified Gov. Gray Davis as an incompetent tax-and-spend chief executive who needed to be booted from office. Everything that was wrong with California was laid at Davis' feet. The Republican Schwarzenegger won the recall election, and Democrat Davis suffered the ignominy of being the first California governor to be recalled from office. Davis didn't exactly slink away from Sacramento into oblivion, but he was viewed by many as a sort of Charlie Brown character who never got things right.

Two short years later, Gov. Schwarzenegger stood next to Davis in the state Capitol and extolled him as if he had been one of the state's greatest chief executives. The occasion was the unveiling of Davis' official portrait. There was no word of the administration that allowed the state to plunge billions of dollars in debt or slip into an unprecedented energy crisis; instead,

there was talk of how Davis and wife Sharon have become friends with the governor and wife Maria Shriver, getting together for dinners and conversations.

If any clearer indicator were needed that Schwarzenegger no longer finds Davis to be damaged goods politically, consider the recent appointment of Susan Kennedy as the governor's chief of staff, and Daniel Zingale as Shriver's. Both were former Cabinet secretaries of Davis.

Perhaps one reason for the switch is that Schwarzenegger has suffered political reverses this year and discovered the difficulties of dealing with a Legislature controlled by the opposition party. He knows now that it takes far more than a booming personality and political rallies to govern this state.

Former governors and ex-presidents constitute an exclusive club. Only they know exactly what it takes to do their jobs. Only they can fully appreciate the pressures and the problems that have no obvious or easy solution. The glue of working under such a singular form of duress also has brought the likes of Bill Clinton together with the George Bushes.

Davis' job performance, as poor as it was at times, did not justify his removal from office a year after his reelection. Presidents can't be booted from office unless they are convicted of "high crimes and misdemeanors"; no such rule applies to California governors, making it all too simple to stall progress in state government by calling costly recall elections.

The best thing about the portrait ceremony last week is that it allowed Schwarzenegger to show he can be gracious to his political opponents, and it restored some measure of personal dignity to Davis, who was a dedicated public servant in this state for more than 30 years.