Thomas D. Elias: Governor’s best allies were dems
Let no one downplay the immense political skill that went into Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s seemingly miraculous political resurrection, which climaxed this month with his easy re-election.
Just as much, let no one downplay the role key Democrats played in that comeback.
Only one year ago, many analysts (but not this one) wrote him off as politically dead, a muscular novelty celebrity candidate who had overreached and was bound for almost certain defeat this fall.
Schwarzenegger, though, never believed this. He assiduously rebuilt himself from the ground up, developing new relationships with Democrats he formerly excoriated as “girlie men,” the same professional politicians who last November handily defeated all four of Schwarzenegger’s pet special election ballot initiatives and two others he backed.
In the end, this was one Republican revival that depended almost wholly on Democrats. They came through big-time for Schwarzenegger, each for reasons of his or her own.
Take Democratic Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, the soon-to-be-termed out ultra-liberal representing western Los Angeles County and much of Ventura County. Pavley authored a pioneering anti-global warming law passed under former Democratic Gray Davis. It demands that greenhouse gases produced by cars and trucks be reduced dramatically by 2010.
Pavley deeply wished for more, even though automakers are still fighting her earlier law. She wanted far more comprehensive greenhouse gas restrictions governing all commercial and industrial sources of carbon monoxide and got Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez to sponsor a bill embodying her ideas.
Both eventually compromised with Schwarzenegger, who first sought to have new greenhouse gas standards set by the governor’s closest appointees, with a clause allowing him and future governors to suspend the rules whenever they feel it’s needed. The Democrats eventually won rule-setting authority for the state Air Resources Board, with its long record of innovation and toughness in fighting smog, but the escape clause remained.
For Pavley, the eventual bill, signed into law by Schwarzenegger, forms a legacy on which she will build a future campaign for the state Senate. It’s also the single most important bill Nunez has ever carried.
The Democrats settled for half a loaf because they feared that if Schwarzenegger were reelected, he would have no need to appease them in a new term. They took what they could get when they could get it.
When it came to a raised minimum wage, it was the same for labor union allies among legislative Democrats. They badly wanted a higher minimum with an escalator clause tying future increases to inflation. But they happily compromised when Schwarzenegger signed off on a new minimum with no escalator clause that still provides the nation’s highest baseline wage.
Again, Democrats took half a loaf this year, fearing Schwarzenegger would have no need even to grant them crumbs next year.
The assumption all along was that Democratic challenger Phil Angelides – who would gladly sign far more liberal versions of both these key bills – would never get a chance to sign anything but personal checks. This may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy as it left Angelides an impossible hill to climb.
By compromising, Democrats let Schwarzenegger hype himself as a champion of both the environment and the working class. Any claims to the contrary by Angelides sounded like pure sour grapes.
Meanwhile, Nunez, nominally a co-chairman of the Angelides campaign, spent far more time on the hustings over the last year with Schwarzenegger than with his supposed candidate. He spent some of that time promoting the bond measures on the ballot as Propositions 1A through 1E, and some just in mutual admiration. Nunez called Schwarzenegger “a good friend,” a tag he never applied to his own candidate.
Then there was Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who waited until after Labor Day to endorse Angelides, but even then had no negative words about Schwarzenegger. The governor, after all, made his sister a judge and gave him control over many Los Angeles public schools.
So Democrats became de facto Schwarzenegger allies through a combination of personal ambition and honest desire to get something done while there was opportunity.
Whatever the reason, all this made Angelides pure roadkill, the victim of legislative compromises that robbed him both of solid issues and of a his party base.
Thomas D. Elias is a syndicated columnist who writes about California issues. Contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.
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