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A bruised state Republican Party gathers

Gov. Schwarzenegger seeks to mend fences with GOP members after shunning conservative wing.

September 26, 2009|Michael Finnegan

INDIAN WELLS — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought to rebuild his tattered relations with fellow Republicans on Friday by portraying himself as a champion of fiscal discipline despite his broken promise not to raise taxes.

"In the last two years, obviously many difficult decisions had to be made," Schwarzenegger told hundreds of Republicans at a state party convention here. "And I know through this crisis, we didn't always see eye to eye on every issue."

Skipping over the billions of dollars in tax increases he approved in February, Schwarzenegger reminded the crowd that he cut spending by billions of dollars.

He named every governor since Pat Brown, who took office in 1959, and said state spending had grown at a faster rate under each of them than during his tenure.

"This is a huge accomplishment, and I'm very proud of this record," Schwarzenegger told the crowd.

The Republicans gave the governor a standing ovation after his 20-minute speech. But many made it clear that they remain deeply disappointed that he has often shunned his party's conservative wing, especially on taxes.

"I think the governor's legacy is one of failure," said Mike Spence, one of the state party's leading conservative activists. "He over-promised and under-delivered in every area."

The discontent with Schwarzenegger among conservatives has been brewing for years, but intensified this year after he broke his vow not to raise taxes.

"It was never a love affair to begin with," said Allan Hoffenblum, a party consultant and publisher of a California election guide.

Schwarzenegger's remarks opened the fall convention of a party stung by more than a decade of electoral defeats in California, broken only by the governor's victory in the 2003 recall of his Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis, and his 2006 reelection.

The weekend gathering will feature three Republicans vying in the June 2010 primary for the nomination to succeed Schwarzenegger: former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman, state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former Silicon Valley Congressman Tom Campbell.

Whitman and Poizner have broken with Schwarzenegger over the tax increases, while Campbell, the governor's former finance director, has said they were necessary to weather the budget crisis.

To the extent that he could, Schwarzenegger stressed his conservative fiscal credentials, including the state's recent sale of surplus property.

"We held one of the largest garage sales ever," he said. The state sold old California Highway Patrol motorcycles and vehicles that were "abused" by state lawmakers, he said.

Schwarzenegger also joked that his Democratic wife, Maria Shriver, was often mad at him over his handling of the budget crisis.

"To be honest with you, I have spent a lot of nights sleeping in my garage," he said. This week, on the third anniversary of his signing of a law to curb greenhouse gases, he said, "Maria let me back in the bedroom. It was the best sleep I've had in months."

The crowd laughed, but among conservatives, that law is one of the most unpopular Schwarzenegger has signed. Whitman vowed this week to suspend it, and state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), a candidate for U.S. Senate, on Friday called the law "a gigantic mistake."

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michael.finnegan@latimes.com

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