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Schwarzenegger to Push Agenda in Key Districts

Moderate Democrats will be targeted in a road trip to seek support for spending cap and bond measures the governor wants on March ballot.

November 29, 2003|Joe Mathews, Gregg Jones and Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writers

As his administration negotiates with legislators behind closed doors in Sacramento, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to spend much of next week shuttling between the Capitol and the districts of Democratic lawmakers to promote his spending cap and bond proposals.

The Republican governor is scheduled to visit San Diego on Tuesday, Bakersfield on Thursday and Tracy in the Central Valley on Friday. Those are areas where he ran strong in the Oct. 7 recall race and where legislators are moderate Democrats, many with plans to run for reelection or other offices next year, according to two gubernatorial aides.

Such Democrats should be allies of the centrist governor in the effort to pass his fiscal program, Schwarzenegger's aides said, but for the most part have not pledged their support.

He could add stops in other districts to his schedule as the week progresses, a senior aide said. Details of his trip have not been formally announced, and lawmakers apparently were unaware of them this week.

Schwarzenegger wants the Legislature to put on the March 2 ballot his proposals for a limit on state spending and a bond issue to cover up to $15 billion in government deficits. In his appearances, the governor will push Friday as a deadline for legislative action. That is the last day, according to the secretary of state, that new measures can be added to the March ballot.

Some Democrats and Republicans have taken issue with Schwarzenegger's proposals. Some have said he has not offered enough detail; others favor spending cuts or tax increases as alternatives to borrowing. The governor has promised -- deadpan, Terminator-style -- to exact "severe casualties" in state elections next March and November if his program, which he calls the "California recovery plan," is not approved by the Legislature.

"He'll take his case to the people and visit some of those districts if he needs to ... in order to make the case that the California recovery plan that he's proposed is really what is needed," Rob Stutzman, his communications director, said this week.

Stutzman said that although many legislators talk about cooperation, some "want to sit back and be critics instead of helping to participate in solutions. And for some of them, they'll have to make decisions about what that means for them back home in their districts."

Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe, a San Diego Democrat who is running for state Senate next year and is a target of Schwarzenegger's Tuesday stop, called the strategy "unsettling."

"I hope some of this stuff is posturing by his advisors to put the fear of God in legislators," Kehoe said, adding that the governor's proposed bond is too big. She also wonders whether his spending cap will be useful, since the Legislature has ignored previous limits. "I think there's a lot of good cop-bad cop going on," she said.

While members of his administration have haggled with lawmakers, Schwarzenegger has tried to stay above the fray, charming individual legislators in small meetings while devoting the bulk of his energies to selling his policies to the public. Although the governor called the Legislature into special sessions Nov. 17 -- the day he was sworn in -- Schwarzenegger has spent just six days in the capital since becoming governor.

Republican consultant Dan Schnur said a lack of public attention to Sacramento has often meant that legislators could take positions that might be unpopular with their constituents. But "Schwarzenegger brings with him a megaphone big enough to make sure that those voters hear about it," Schnur said.

Political strategist Arnold Steinberg said he could not recall another governor making such district visits so early in his administration. "I think it's bold," he said. "It shows how committed he is to his program."

Even as they planned the governor's stump trips, his aides sought to lower expectations. Schwarzenegger's appearances will not be a bus tour like the one that capped his gubernatorial campaign, they said. And during the Christmas shopping season, they don't expect the overflow crowds that showed up for Schwarzenegger's pre-election rallies.

The governor, who in his appearances will call for "action not delay," will not name the targeted lawmakers but instead encourage legislators generally to let the people vote and encourage citizens to call their Assembly and Senate representatives, aides said.

In San Diego, the governor's targets include not only Kehoe but also state Sens. Dede Alpert and Denise Ducheny and Assemblyman Juan Vargas, a gubernatorial aide said. Alpert said she even met Tuesday with Schwarzenegger at the governor's invitation, and expressed her concern about some elements of his proposed spending cap, such as the power it would give the governor to decide spending priorities.

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