If empty suit fits, put it on
When one politician calls another an “empty suit,” he’d better be ready to prove that his own suit and that of whomever he’s backing contains real beef.
This standard can now be applied to the state Republican Party convention remarks of the usually low-key and pithy state Sen. Tom McClintock, the Ventura County Republican who will almost surely be his party’s candidate for lieutenant governor this fall.
“The emptiest suit I have ever encountered in 25 years in politics,” McClintock called Steve Westly, one of two major Democrats vying to oppose Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this fall. Westly, of course, narrowly beat McClintock in their 2002 run for state controller.
Westly wasn’t there to respond to the name-calling by his former rival. But the gratuitous insult justifies a close look at the record and earlier convention remarks of the current showman governor with whom McClintock will team this year.
Listing his achievements, Schwarzenegger noted that he had rescinded his predecessor’s increase in the car tax, convinced lawmakers to repeal a measure giving drivers licenses to some illegal immigrants and reformed workers’ compensation.
He also claimed, “We saved this state from bankruptcy” and “We fully funded transportation and education.”
There are, of course, tens of thousands of teachers who take exception to that last one. But the key point here is that virtually every action Schwarzenegger named came in his first six months in office, the honeymoon period given to almost any new governor.
He pointed at almost nothing since then, except his signing of a couple of bills that had been carried for years by legislative Democrats and for which he now takes credit, including one banning junk food and sodas from public schools.
Which means he’s essentially said the past two years of his term were almost devoid of achievement. His running mate may call a potential rival an empty suit, but Schwarzenegger’s own recitation reveals a nearly empty record.
Essentially, Schwarzenegger was admitting his last two years in office – a time of spectacular photo opportunities, camera-stuffed press conferences and loud speeches – were what Shakespeare described in “Macbeth” as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
What, actually, has Arnold done over the last two years? First, he presided over adoption of a budget that deliberately deprived public schools of money they were entitled to, promising to repay it the next year. When he claimed to do that, while in fact shortchanging them, he earned what may become the politically fatal enmity of teachers and their powerful union.
Second, he used bonds to balance the state budget with borrowed money. And third, he ran four hugely unsuccessful ballot initiative campaigns aiming to reduce the influence of labor unions, make life more difficult for young schoolteachers and halt automatic increases in most state spending. At the same time, his current budget calls for automatic hikes in funding for his own office staff, now standing near $20 million.
He raised money almost nonstop for his ballot committees, then watched his appointees on agencies like the state Public Utilities and Energy Commission reward companies that contributed while punishing consumers, most of whom did not kick in.
And, while insisting he’s pro-choice, he backed a losing ballot initiative aiming to make it tougher for teenage girls to get abortions.
It’s been a lose-lose-lose period for the governator, who has not even been able to make good on his promise to become the “collectinator” by getting this state a larger share of federal funds. The latest federal budget proposal would cut this state’s portion by $3.9 billion, according to a report from the Sacramento-based California Budget Project. Worse yet, he hasn’t even been able to get legislative Republicans to go along with his ballyhooed plan to issue $71 billion in construction and repair bonds.
So the real question for McClintock, who disagrees with much of what Schwarzenegger wants – including those bond issues – is why he calls Westly an empty suit while eagerly partnering with a man whose muscles may fill a suit but owns an essentially empty record.
Thomas D. Elias is a columnist who appears regularly in The Union. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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