Thomas D. Elias: Which Arnold will be on the fall ballot?
There is plenty of doubt today about a lot of things to be decided in the June 6 primary election, but no doubt at all about who Republicans will nominate for governor.
From the moment he won the office in the recall election of 2003, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has never encountered serious opposition within his own party.
But there is plenty of doubt about what this might mean to Californians. For in the 30 months Schwarzenegger has served, the state has seen two Arnolds in operation – one an arch-conservative and the other pushing an agenda more suitable to a moderate Democrat.
And there’s the rub for many voters: If they vote for Schwarzenegger this fall, they can only guess what they’ll be getting if he wins. His actions have been too contradictory for anyone to be certain how he might govern if re-elected to a new four-year term with no possibility of again seeking re-election.
The inconsistencies worry Republicans at least as much as Democrats, as evidenced by Internet postings from conservative bloggers.
Here are a few of the contradictions:
– Schwarzenegger spent months last year trying to pass Propositions 74 and 75, one aimed at making it more difficult for young teachers to gain tenure, the other an attempt to make it difficult for labor unions to fund political campaigns. This year, he appointed a vice president of the state’s largest teachers’ union – also labor’s leading political spender – to a new term on the state Board of Education.
– The governor ran in 2003 as an out-and-out backer of abortion rights but worked last year for passage of the unsuccessful Proposition 73, which would have imposed a waiting period on some abortions and demanded that most teenage girls notify their parents before aborting an unwanted fetus.
– He promised while pushing $15 billion in budget-balancing bonds in 2004 that if they passed, the state would “tear up” its “credit card.” But he spent most of last winter pumping just as hard for $68 billion worth of new bonds to add or rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure, later adopting as his own a very different $38 billion bond proposal crafted by Democrats in the Legislature. He never even discussed the idea of “pay-as-you-go” for many of projects the bonds would cover.
– Schwarzenegger said virtually nothing about levees in the Central Valley for his first two years in office, not even in the immediate aftermath of the levee-destroying Hurricane Katrina. Then he devoted much of his time and energy this spring to trying to get them repaired soon. The question: Was the new interest in levees merely a convenient cause designed to rebuild his image after his political defeat in last November’s special election, or is his interest and concern genuine?
Only Schwarzenegger can explain these apparent inconsistencies, but he’s declined numerous requests to discuss them.
For sure, the inconsistencies will be a major subject of television commercials aired by either state Controller Steve Westly or Treasurer Phil Angelides, whichever one wins the Democratic nomination and opposes Schwarzenegger.
Both Bob Mulholland, Angelides’ chief campaign adviser, and Westly’s major domo Garry South are past masters at using the inconsistencies of opponents against them.
One Mulholland tour de force came in 1992, when Republican Bruce Herschensohn was eating into the narrow lead of Democrat Barbara Boxer in a race for the U.S. Senate. Just days before the election, Mulholland, then a top operative of the state Democratic Party, informed the state’s media that Herschensohn – who had campaigned loudly for “family values” – had frequented a Hollywood strip joint. The result: Boxer is now in her third term and Herschensohn is a second-tier political commentator.
South’s most effective destruction of an opponent came in 2002 while working with ex-Gov. Gray Davis. Calculating that former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan would be the toughest Republican candidate for Davis to beat, South orchestrated a serious of primary-season ads focusing on alleged Riordan inconsistencies. Early leader Riordan lost the primary badly, with Davis easily winning re-election over financier Bill Simon.
Any campaign focusing on Schwarzenegger’s glaring contradictions would have two aims: Raising a sense of distrust among all voters and demotivating potential Republican voters, who might stay home rather than choose between a Democrat and a Republican candidate they might fear to be a “RINO” – Republican in name only.
Thomas D. Elias is a syndicated columnist whose work appears in The Union. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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“There is a cult of ignorance in this country … nurtured by the false notion that ‘my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov, 1980.