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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Arnold goes all out

Arnold Schwarzenegger may never become president — but he could be headed toward a political legacy as historically signicant as Ronald Reagan's. This week the California governor will call a special election for Terminator-backed measures to: take redistricting from the hands of the California legislature, increase the time it takes for a public school teacher to get tenure, and give the governor more control over the budget. If Arnold wins on these three issues, he sets a powerful example for other limited-government state executives faced with spend-happy legislatures. Schwarzenegger's battle won't be easy, given that he's taking on some of of California's most entrenched lobbies, including the powerful and ever-vindictive California Teachers Association. Good sign for Arnold: Polls show that voters given up on the reform agenda that Arnold personified when he won the 20o3 recall election. A less positive omen is the growing sense of many reform-minded independents that Schwarzenegger doesn't have the moxey to try to blow up the boxes he promised to. Schwarzenegger needs to understand that the same electorate that pays lip service to wanting reforms also perks up when legislators offer new rounds of goodies. "A system that robs Peter to pay Paul is able to count on the support of Paul." Many Californians say they are tired of business as usual, but many of those same voters are ... Paul. Some are frankly susceptible to "tax the rich" demagoguery when they think it might lead to some new benefit or entitlement. (The Democrat-controlled legislature is already working overtime to persuade voters that the money required to hold the election ($70-80 million) would be far better spent buying 4 million textbooks, 1,200 new school buses, health insurance for 64,725 uninsured young adults.) Here's where the Reagan analogy comes in. Arnold has a chance here to lift the argument to a higher moral plane by making a powerful case for the classic argument that government schemes to redistribute wealth in the name of "equality" invariably come at the expense of freedom and the erosion of the values of citizenship, especially the grand American tradition of self-reliance for which Emerson so memorably spoke:
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.
Reagan knew how to make that kind of argument in powerful, tangible terms. Hopefully, Arnold's team is prepared to get out ahead, and fast, in what promises to be grueling contest of ideas. The Democrats in the legislature — and their editorial friends at the SF Chronicle and LA Times — will be speaking for Paul's desire for more taxpayer funded benefits. Team Arnold needs to drive home the point that Paul's payoff comes at a price to Paul's children and grandchildren, who will bear the burden of a growing state deficit and the expanded citizen enfeeblement that accompanies each new add-on to nanny state. Callifornia is at a crossroads.Redistricting reform stands a good chance of busting open the incumbent-protection system to which in both Democrats and Republicans have long been complicit. Systemic budgeting changes can make it easier for the executive to cut off a spend-happy legislature at the pass. And altering the teacher tenure track will bring long overdue emphasis to teacher performance. Get ready for a battle royale:
The special election "is an absolutely essential thing to do at this point of the public discussion that began with the recall,'' said state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks. "I told the governor after his election that the same Legislature that got us into this mess won't get us out.'' The prospect of a statewide vote in November isn't likely to make the already strained relations between the governor and the Legislature any cheerier. But that doesn't seem to bother the governor. Schwarzenegger, who for months has been battered by protests and television attack ads from teachers, nurses and government workers upset at his plans, struck back last week with a television assault of his own. His backers slammed Democrats with a TV spot that accused the Legislature of buckling under to pressure from public employee unions to boost government spending and raise taxes to balance the budget [San Francisco Chronicle, 12 June 2005].