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Schwarzenegger's lame-duck calls

The governor was right to back down on his veto threat, but other decisions weren't as wise.

October 13, 2009

Living in a state with a lame-duck governor can have its pluses and minuses, as Californians are discovering this week. With the clock ticking down on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's second term, he was free to make politically risky decisions on whether to approve or reject the 704 bills passed by the Legislature -- perhaps the riskiest being to sign any at all.

Schwarzenegger had threatened to veto hundreds of bills unless legislative leaders, who have been meeting privately in an attempt to hammer out a solution to California's water supply problems, could reach an agreement by the Sunday bill-signing deadline. No such deal was struck, but Schwarzenegger rightly backed down. That won't help his credibility, and a governor more concerned about having to twist legislative arms in the future might have stood firm. But that would have killed a raft of important legislation, rendered the past year's work by lawmakers a waste of time and defeated many of Schwarzenegger's own favored initiatives.

The governor also vetoed some bills we had urged him to approve. Particularly destructive was his veto of AB 2, which would have restricted health insurers' ability to rescind policies. Even the most fervent opponents of national healthcare reform have a tough time defending rescission, in which insurers drop policyholders who need expensive treatments by claiming they omitted some detail of their medical history on application forms. We're still holding out hope for a federal healthcare bill that obviates this despicable practice, but California's attempt to blaze a trail in the right direction is over for now.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger's lame-duck status may have given him the courage to sign some controversial bills that we wish he hadn't. Last year, for example, he rejected a bill from Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to designate a statewide Harvey Milk Day. This year, perhaps because he no longer fears a backlash from his own party, the governor approved it. Though May 22 won't be a state holiday, and schools and government offices will remain open, the bill encourages public schools to commemorate the birthday of Milk, a gay San Francisco supervisor who was gunned down in 1978.

By taking a grown-up political fight to schoolchildren, Leno's bill will only add to the hysteria surrounding gay rights, proving to conservatives that proponents really are eager to teach homosexuality in the schools. Schools have an obligation to teach history, but they shouldn't be used as a platform for a political agenda. Although Milk deserves recognition as a gay-rights pioneer, there are more appropriate ways to honor him. At times like this, we miss the days when Schwarzenegger lacked a backbone.

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