Arnold's first hundred days
by Bill Monson
A major difficulty in analyzing Arnold Schwarzenegger's first hundred days as governor of California is the fact that he gained office by the recall of Gray Davis and his tenure thus falls outside the normal election cycle. In fact, the end of his first hundred days almost coincided with a primary election--the March 2 Big Tuesday--whose main interest in California was on propositions and not candidates. Because of his unorthodox election, the State Legislature regarded him warily. Did he represent a statewide turn toward the Right? Was he a real political power to be dealt with or was he an anomaly arising out of general voter dissatisfaction with the way Sacramento was operating?
Arnold started by keeping two of his campaign promises. On his inaugural day, he issued an Executive Order to cut back vehicle registration fees by two-thirds to their 2002 levels. This, however, cost California cities and counties money they would have gotten from the increased fees. It merely passed part of the budget crunch from Sacramento to local government. Californians, whose relationship with their vehicles is worth a column in itself, have not seemed to care. They got their individual rollbacks.
He also persuaded the Legislature to repeal a law which gave illegal aliens the right to apply for California drivers licenses. This had been a Gray Davis measure to gain votes because it was backed by Mexican-American political groups. Lieutenant-Governor Cruz Bustamonte also supported it ardently--especially during the recall campaign-- and some observers think it worked against him. The quick dumping of it by the Legislature certainly helped to force Bustamonte into eclipse. Currently, he is struggling to regain some of his former political prestige as he flies below the media radar.
One week after his inauguration, Schwarzenegger made his first stumble. He proposed $2-billion in immediate spending cuts. One of these was to eliminate services for the developmentally disabled. Suddenly, Arnold was confronted by people in wheel chairs protesting before TV cameras on the capitol lawn. Sniffing the wind, the Legislature balked, and the Governor backed off.
This carried into December when talks collapsed between Arnold and the Legislature about a hard cap on State spending and selling $15-billion in bonds to help the State's deficit. Even right-wing Republicans criticized him for this one. However, the new Governor turned on the charm with the Legislature and simultaneously went around them to appeal directly to the voters. What resulted were Propositions 57 and 58. The first put the $15-billion bond issue on the March 2 ballot, thus avoiding the Legislature taking the blame for the outcome. The second was a balanced budget requirement keyed to the first; if either failed, both did. Arnold next sought out bipartisan support for the propositions and found it--even from the Democrats' biggest vote-getter Senator Dianne Feinstein. When voters passed both propositions handily, Arnold had his biggest victory to date.
The voters also narrowly passed a bond issue for school improvements statewide (the money to go only to construction and renovation, not salaries or administration); and they defeated a measure which would have helped avoid annual budget deadlocks by reducing the necessary majority from two-thirds to 55%. Opponents portrayed it as an easier way to raise taxes, and voters killed it. Schwarzenegger now faces the challenges of workman's compensation, reworking contracts with State employees, and thrashing out next year's budget with the Legislature. All are tough problems--but the Governor has had a real scandal handed to him in the State's prison system. A sweetheart deal between ex-Governor Davis and the California Correctional Police Officers Association may prove four times more expensive than announced, thanks to semi-secret provisions. For example, because of overtime, some guards make more than their warden!
The media are having a field day with this; and as Arnold's budget-examiners continue their scrutiny, aroused voter anger may prove a big plus in his efforts to redo the contracts of other state workers unions.
The Legislature still watches him warily. But he has proven to be a disarming negotiator. His office has been accessible to both
Democrats and Republicans; in contrast to the remote and haughty Davis, he is charming in person--and he listens. He maintains a can-do, positive attitude toward the State's problems; and some pundits are already
comparing him to Ronald Reagan for his media savvy and his Teflon ability not to have mistakes stick to him.
His first hundred days must be considered a success. He has not achieved all he promised, but he has made a good beginning. The next hundred days will be crucial, and it promises to be a long, hot summer in Sacramento.
The picture for this is obvious--Gov.
Polly's computer is now back up, so I'm using it.
Still struggling to shake off the last
of the virus--a damnable cough.
Not yet certain of next week's column,
but you might look for a picture of a
surfer on a wave as I'm thinking of
waxing nostalgic and catching the curl.