When will governor speak up for California?
One major theme of the slick television ads backing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger aired by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for the last month is that this governor cares about average Californians.
But if so, why has he been so conspicuously silent on one key issue after another with the potential to negatively affect every Californian? These involve everything from income taxes to food labeling and telephones, ubiquitous topics all.
When a commission appointed by President Bush developed an income tax “reform” plan, including strict limits on what homeowners can deduct for mortgage interest, Schwarzenegger said nothing.
When the House of Representatives passed the National Uniformity of Food Act, both California senators and Attorney General Bill Lockyer immediately began fighting the bill’s ultimate adoption, saying it would remove many requirements for reporting possibly toxic contents on food labels. They were joined by attorneys general of 37 other states, all of which – like California – have far tougher labeling requirements than the proposed new federal ones.
Schwarzenegger so far has said nothing.
When his appointees to the state Public Utilities Commission voted to adopt a watered-down cell phone users’ “bill of rights” that essentially puts the onus on customers to catch overcharges quickly or be forced to pay them, Schwarzenegger again was silent. Because his new chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, coauthored the plan while a PUC commissioner; her hiring indicated the governor’s approval of her creation.
So is it any wonder when the national Chamber of Commerce, made up in large part of companies that would benefit from relaxed food labeling and fewer consumer rights, puts up millions of dollars for supposed “issue ads” that promote Schwarzenegger and no real issue?
Nothing involved here is a new dispute for California. The state’s governors dating back to Earl Warren and Pat Brown have always gotten involved in them. But not Schwarzenegger, who often seemed like a one-trick pony as he did little last winter but raise money for his re-election campaign and promote construction bonds that may never make the ballot.
But governors can’t pick and choose what they’re going to get involved in. They are not legislators who can make reputations by concentrating on particular issues while keeping their noses out of things they don’t care about. Governors, especially in California, eventually must deal with every issue from air pollution to park maintenance, taxation nd immigration. For every significant question eventually winds up on the governor’s desk, either in the form of a proposed law he must sign or veto, or when a crisis occurs.
If the mortgage deduction changes ever pass, and they are still pending in Congress, they would limit writeoffs for home loan interest to what would be paid on a $271,000 note. Very few California home loans these days are so low. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein estimated the average California family would lose about $6,000 in tax deductions if this passed, an actual cost of about $2,200 per household.
A governor who proudly claims almost every day there have been no new taxes during his term might be interested in fighting this. Or at least sending a President of his own party a letter expressing opposition. Not Schwarzenegger. Neither he nor his staff offer explanations for his silence.
The same for the food labeling bill. State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres, a former legislator who helped author California’s tough Proposition 65 labeling requirements, spoke up right away. “I am outraged that the House passed a bill that w ill eviscerate our public health protection laws,” he said.
Schwarzenegger’s silence on these and other key issues provides openings for his prospective fall election opponents. Said hopeful rival Phil Angelides, now the state treasurer, “This would roll back the stringent protections of a law that a strong majority of voters put in place 20 years ago.” He added that the bill would also wipe out two laws Schwarzenegger signed with great ballyhoo last year: one protecting children from lead in candy and another limiting the use of performance-enhancing substances by high school athletes.
Said Angelides in an open letter to Schwarzenegger, “I cannot believe that you would weaken California’s food safety and labeling laws. But that will be the almost certain result if you do not … oppose (the bill).”
In fact, if state governors do not speak up against federal bills affecting their constituents, members of Congress generally assume they are not opposed and don’t feel those bills will be harmful. Schwarzenegger’s silence on both the tax and food labeling bills, then, can easily be interpreted as tacit support.
Which means that if the governor really means his mantra about being interested in the welfare of all Californians, it’s high time for him to speak up to protect them, or forever stop claiming that he cares.
Thomas D. Elias is a syndicated columnist whose work appears in The Union. Contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.
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