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Steve Lopez POINTS WEST

Der Gropenfuhrer Muscles His Way Into Office -- So What Now?

October 08, 2003|Steve Lopez

You can count the days now until Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of California and Gray Davis is working as a croupier at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon.

The final tally isn't in as I pour myself a celebratory drink on Tuesday night, but we've got something even more solid than a final tally. CNN just said Jay Leno was about to make a victory appearance with Schwarzenegger.

Perfect. A campaign that began with the late-night comedian may be notarized by him. And so we've had our little revolution and the new emperor is Der Gropenfuhrer, which, in Austrian, means:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

By the way, those who believed the L.A. Times was trying to knock out Schwarzenegger last week with stories about his groping proclivities overlooked two important points.

First, if the plan was to knock him out, the stories would have run much sooner than they did, when they might have done some damage. Second, any self-respecting hack would rather have Schwarzenegger to write about than Davis.

In fact, I'm from Northern California, and I'm thinking of moving back. I'll just have to wait and see if Schwarzenegger decides to actually live in the state capital, or take the private jet home to Brentwood each night.

One thing I have to say about Arnold is that his victory was no fluke.

Yes, we all know this was primarily about the hated Gov. Gray Davis, not Schwarzenegger.

We know there was growing rage about the way business is done in Sacramento, where lobbyists own every lawmaker.

And we all know Californians believe they've been ripped off on everything from electric bills to vehicle license fees, and they're none too happy about having to shell out for illegals about to flock north for the free driver's licenses Davis is passing out.

But let's give Arnold the credit he deserves.

If you can trample your own campaign promises, avoid talking about fixes for the state's problems, drive a Hummer in smog city, get accused of pawing 15 women, and still captivate an electorate in which Democrats hold a huge advantage, you deserve to be governor.

And the people deserve to have you.

I'm reminded of "The Candidate," the film in which Robert Redford plays a rookie who pulls off an upset and wins election to the U.S. Senate. In the last scene, Redford turns to his campaign manager and asks:

"What do we do now?"

That's the $10-billion-plus question for Gov. Arnold and all of California, now that this latest adventure in sun-dried democracy is drawing to a close.

"Right now we've got fiscal and ideological impasse," says State Librarian Kevin Starr. "Republicans want no new taxes, no new anything, and let's lay everybody off. It's the meat cleaver approach.

"The Democrats, on the other hand, have got to learn something from the Republicans. You can't just spend, spend, spend, like you're on a sugar high."

Sure, but in such a polarized culture, how can Arnold or anyone else get Republicans and Democrats to agree on the time of day, let alone find common ground on whacking programs, putting an end to borrowing, and reworking the tax system?

There's only one way it can happen, and you may not like hearing it. You're going to have to hold them accountable, which means you'll have to start paying attention to stories about state government, even when they don't directly involve Big Boy.

Early in the recall campaign, I wrote the following paragraph about the lifecycle of the average eligible voter in California:

Pay no attention. Pay no attention. Pay no attention. Get hopping mad about what happened while no one was paying attention. Sign a petition. Skip the election. Complain briefly about the consequences. Pay no attention. Pay no attention. Pay no attention.

That's right. You're as responsible for the state's problems as anyone else.

Half of you didn't bother to vote in the 2002 election for governor. You probably still don't know who your state Assembly and Senate representatives are.

You saw dozens of stories in this newspaper about the state budget and quickly flipped to the TV listings.

You saw stories about campaign finance reform, and you lapsed into a coma.

You didn't even pay attention when I told you Davis had an obsessive compulsive fund-raising disorder, and that we were going to pay dearly.

You were on siesta until a celebrity action hero threw his Mr. Universe crown into the ring. Then all of a sudden the nap was over, you were a student of state politics, and you bought into the idea that a recall could fix everything.

Well guess what, Sparky. I like the idea of a Republican muscleman riding herd over a spend-happy Democratic Legislature. But nothing's going to be fixed overnight, no matter what you were promised during the campaign.

In fact, as you read this, the governor is probably looking at his team and asking:

"What do we do now?"

*

Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.

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