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Schwarzenegger Betting His Political Future on Half Measures

March 02, 2004|Patt Morrison

I'm soooo keyed up about today's election, aren't you?

I'm absolutely dying to find out exactly how that world-famous Hollywood colossus is going to rate with the voters.

And you've got to wonder, what'll he do if the vote goes against him?

Oh. Oh, jeez. Color me embarrassed! My mistake -- the Disney stockholders' vote on Michael Eisner is tomorrow, not today.

Today's election is about that other Hollywood colossus, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Our governor. His name is not on the ballot today, but his young political reputation is.

Schwarzenegger is betting his political future, and California's economic one, on Propositions 57 and 58.

Yeah, I know -- after the wild, thrilling romance of the recall, it's back to the boring old matrimonial humdrum of initiatives.

And of those of you who do vote, half of you may walk into the voting booth today and take a look at the ballot and say, "There's a presidential primary too? How did I miss that?" You missed it because for the most part the Democrats' Big Two candidates sent their wives and kids to shake our hands and collect our checks. But President George Bush, batting cleanup as he likes to do after a Democratic primary, will breeze into town in person Wednesday, tangling evening traffic on behalf of both God and Mammon with a conference on faith-based initiatives and then a big fundraiser.

Propositions 57 and 58 are carrot and stick, sweet and sour, and both must pass or nothing happens: 57 would borrow $15 billion in bonds to make California's ends meet. It's a bill-consolidation loan of the kind we would get at a finance company. It'd pay off the budget deficit and the two or three billion that Schwarzenegger's rollback of the car license fee cost. And 58 would absolutely, cross-its-heart require that any budget any governor ever signs again has to be balanced.

All of which sounds a lot like a prisoner at a parole hearing: Warden, if you take a chance on me and let me out (Proposition 57), I promise to go straight and I'll never, ever do it again (Proposition 58).

After Schwarzenegger was elected, I thought I'd finally be able to turn on a TV without seeing him. Wrong -- he's the star of the $7-million ad campaign to get Californians to vote for both. He's been smiling that two-octave smile of his because Democrats helped him to get the propositions on the ballot, and he's bagged the endorsement of the biggest Democrat of all, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

This is good news for Democratic state Controller Steve Westly, who literally finishes Schwarzenegger's sentences in their joint TV ad. It means that at the election night party in Santa Monica this evening, he won't be the only Democrat in the hotel ballroom not carrying a tray of dishes.

Republicans who held their noses and voted for the pro-choice, glute-grabbing Schwarzenegger will vote for it because the balanced-budget part makes the borrowing part palatable. And Democrats who couldn't bear the Schwarzeneggerian swagger will vote for it because the borrowing part makes the balanced-budget part seem tolerable.

Still, the happy Schwarzenegger coalition is a bit ragged at the edges. I know of conservative Republicans who will vote "no" because it means yet more borrowing and that's what Democrats do. And I know of liberal Democrats who'll vote "no" because borrowing was what Republicans whacked Gray Davis for doing, and if Schwarzenegger thought he could waltz in and make everything work with no tax hikes and no program cuts, well, let him go ahead and try.


Terminator, Governator, Collectinator -- Baloney-ator.

Schwarzenegger has warned that if 57 and 58 don't pass, we'll have "Armageddon"-scale cuts, bigger even than what we've already hacked away. Instead of the guns and butter he promised, we'll be reduced to spit wads and margarine.

What did people elect him for, if not to be the bold anti-politician and call their bluffs, Democrats and Republicans? There are alternatives to 57 and 58, but they are evidently the Solution That Dare Not Speak Its Name, even with an Austrian accent.

The Democrats' answer is raising taxes. (I hate it when they say "enhancing revenue" instead of "raising taxes" -- it's so wussy.)

Phil Angelides, the state treasurer who'd like to be Governator himself, says that Schwarzenegger only has to put back the top-bracket tax that rich Californians paid for decades, and he can take cover behind Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson when he does, because they're the ones who levied it in the first place.

Tom McClintock leads the call for more cuts in services. (I hate it when they say "fat" and "bureaucracy" instead of services; it's so cowardly. One taxpayer's fat is another taxpayer's life or death, and most of the people who died in the Oklahoma City bombing were "bureaucrats" handling Social Security and the like.) McClintock believes, as my colleague George Skelton pointed out, that if a service can be found in the Yellow Pages, the government shouldn't be doing it.

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