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The State | George Skelton CAPITOL JOURNAL

Walking on the Sunny Side of Gov.-Elect

October 23, 2003|George Skelton

SACRAMENTO — SACRAMENTO

When Democratic Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer confided to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger that he had voted for him, the governor-elect responded: "Bill, you listened to my heart, not my party."

A curious comment. What precisely did Schwarzenegger mean by it? Sounds like his heart isn't exactly in beat with the GOP, which many have suspected anyway.

And what was Lockyer's purpose in later announcing to the world that he had voted Republican for the first time ever in a partisan race? He had sided with Gov. Gray Davis against the recall, but then crossed to the other side in choosing a replacement. Indeed, Lockyer lined up with the guy he could be running against for governor in 2006.

These are two more signs that the ground is shifting in California politics. A potentially powerful Republican moderate is about to become governor, altering the political landscape. Perhaps he'll become the face of a more gentle-hearted GOP.

The heart vs. party question is intriguing because, during the election campaign, it was difficult to assess the celebrity candidate's emotional ticker.

Although Schwarzenegger didn't emphasize it, because he was being pressured from the GOP right, everybody understood that he was in the tolerant social mainstream -- favoring abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, environmental protection....

More relevant to the moment, he promised not to cut K-12 school funding. He seemed to pledge protection for all children's programs. Problem is, he also vowed not to raise taxes in the face of a budget deficit projected at roughly $10 billion. In fact, he promised to cut one tax -- the vehicle license fee -- by $4 billion.

If you exempt schools and children's programs from cuts, that leaves vulnerable other spending that tugs at the heartstrings, including health care for the working poor, the aged and the disabled.

Schwarzenegger has borrowed a budget-slasher from Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida. Liberals might think of her as the Wicked Witch of the East. Donna Arduin's instructions are to "audit" California's books and find a way to balance them. Her pattern -- in Florida and previously in New York -- has been to target health services.

Florida has eliminated eyeglasses, hearing aids and dentures for the aged poor and relegated 55,000 low-income children to health insurance waiting lists, the Sacramento Bee reported Sunday.

How would such cuts mesh with Schwarzenegger's heart? You'd think they wouldn't at all, based on his longtime activism with kids' programs, plus his campaign platitudes and promises. But, of course, he promised a lot.

They certainly wouldn't mesh with the Democratic Legislature, regardless of any Schwarzenegger schmoozing.

Nor would they seem to fit well with his wife, Maria Shriver, and his Kennedy in-laws.

"Her family always has been concerned for the most vulnerable people in our society," a cousin, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., said in a Times story Sunday. Her brother, Anthony Shriver, added that Schwarzenegger is "right on the mark with most of the social issues we care about."

That's what Lockyer says he thinks, while adding, "I hope I'm not being conned." He told a UC Berkeley election post-mortem Saturday that he likes Schwarzenegger's message of "hope, change, reform, opportunity, upbeat problem-solving."

Later in an interview, Lockyer recalled how he told Schwarzenegger, at a party, that he had voted for him: "I said, 'I mention this because I'm the governor's lawyer and I owe you some fidelity in a lawyer-client way. I want you to know that you shouldn't be worried about traps and partisan games.'

"His response was, 'I can explain your vote. Bill, you listened to my heart, not my party.... You saw my values and not my party label.'

"How can you not like a person who says that?

"His philosophy does seem to be more consistent with fundamental Democratic perspectives, except for his anti-labor and tax-cut comments."

So what's Lockyer's game? "This wasn't calculated," he insists. "It's a new me....

"Why should I make this a secret? If I'm going to tell anybody, tell everybody."

It all makes sense. Lockyer has been around the track, a career pol and former Senate leader. He's 62, recently remarried with an infant son and seeing life's larger pictures.

His signal is clear: Lockyer will not be the lead Democratic attack dog barking at a charismatic new Republican governor. He'll gladly let Treasurer Phil Angelides assume that role

Instead, the A.G. will try to be a bridge between labor and the governor. The voters want pragmatism, not partisanship, he says.

He'll sit back and enjoy the fight between Schwarzenegger's heart and his party. And if the party wins, Lockyer can always say he was conned.

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