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Governor Still Has Promises to Keep

Schwarzenegger has stayed true to many campaign pledges, but he has more to fulfill.

January 27, 2004|Joe Mathews, Peter Nicholas and Evan Halper | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger held a town hall in Los Angeles County last week, he described his days in office as a constant process of "going through the list one by one, keeping my promises that I made in my campaign."

Schwarzenegger made enough promises to fill 24 single-spaced pages on his website, www.joinarnold.com.

As he nears the completion of his first 100 days in office, a topic he is expected to address in a speech to the Sacramento Press Club today, the governor can point to several promises that have been fulfilled -- although his critics can point to many more on which he has yet to act.

Promises are important to any politician. But political strategists say the stakes are higher for a high-profile governor who has never before held public office and must convince voters on March 2 to approve a $15-billion bond he calls vital to taming California's budget deficit.

"Schwarzenegger has no political biography before the beginning of the recall campaign," said Republican political consultant Dan Schnur. "The fact he's able to point to important promises that he's immediately kept gives him the credibility to go to the voters, asking for support on the rest of his agenda."

Schwarzenegger has received heavy attention for keeping two major campaign promises: rolling back a tripling of the vehicle license fee and repealing a law that allowed illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses.

But on the vast majority of his campaign promises, Schwarzenegger has yet to produce specific results. The extent to which some pledges have not been tackled, aides say, is a function of two facts.

First, it has been only 72 days since Schwarzenegger took office after defeating Gov. Gray Davis in a historic recall election. Second, the governor must revive the economy and eliminate the budget deficit before California can afford his promised investments in education, the environment and other programs.

In a few cases, Schwarzenegger's first two months in office offers hints that the governor may be walking away from some pledges -- including a comprehensive audit of state government, a cap on state spending and a vow to conduct his own business openly.

In the end, Schwarzenegger and his aides insist, he will deliver on all of his promises.

"When he was running, he talked about 'action, action, action,' "said Press Secretary Margita Thompson. "And now he's showing he's delivering that. It's important to maintain that level of trust, so people can see he's delivering on his promises."

Along with the car tax and driver's license actions, Schwarzenegger has fulfilled a number of other promises with less fanfare.

* On his first day in office, using language taken directly from his campaign platform, he suspended recently adopted regulations and launched a review of rules enacted under Davis.

* He called the Legislature into special session -- one of his most frequently repeated campaign promises.

* And because of a deal he made with education lobbyists to delay payment of some money owed to schools, he has been able to argue that he kept a promise to prevent cuts to education.

On many other promises, Schwarzenegger has publicly begun work but has not yet achieved the promised results.

* He has made proposals to fix the state's unemployment insurance fund.

* In his State of the State speech, he laid the groundwork for renegotiating long-term energy contracts signed at the height of the electricity crisis.

* His budget lays out myriad ways that he intends to seek money from Washington, D.C., fulfilling his pledge to be a ruthless "Collectinator" of more federal aid.

* Last week, he began negotiations to convince Indian tribes that own casinos to share more of their revenues with the state.

* The governor has relentlessly talked up his proposal to reform the workers' compensation system, though he has been forced to shift tactics. During the campaign, he promised that "I won't sign a budget unless it includes comprehensive workers' compensation reform." He has since dropped that strategy. Now Schwarzenegger says that if lawmakers don't adopt his plan, he will take his proposal to the November ballot.

Schwarzenegger's record has been mixed on his pledges to change the political culture of the Capitol and to operate his administration openly.

In his inaugural speech Nov. 17, he pledged to defuse political rancor: "The election was the people's veto -- for politics as usual." And at times, the governor has shown a willingness to work with both parties.

He negotiated a deal with Democrats to put his deficit bond issue and balanced-budget plan on the ballot. He has met with lawmakers in his office and handed out cigars as gifts. He has gone out of his way to praise state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco). To promote his $15-billion bond and balanced budget amendment, he has campaigned alongside the Democratic controller, Steve Westly.

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