Sacto Dems say Schwarzenegger is towing the Republican Party line.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger left the Capitol last week, and drove a military-style Humvee, dubbed “Reform 1,” to a near-by Applebee’s restaurant.
Schwarzenegger wore a black leather bomber jacket and sunglasses. He looked the part of the populist governor, attacking California legislators for refusing to act on his proposed reforms, and vowing to take his message directly to the people. As he moved from table to table, Schwarzenegger asked diners to sign petitions for ballot measures that could be decided in a special election later this year.
The governor says he wants to change retirement benefits for state workers, scrapping the public employees’ pensions for a cost-saving system along the lines of a 401(k) plan. A second initiative would ask retired judges—not lawmakers—to redraw gerrymandered voting districts. A third ballot measure would make it easier to fire public school teachers.
Schwarzenegger also wants to revamp the budget system, and has proposed amending the state constitution to require the state controller to cut spending across the board when revenues lag behind spending.
But while the governor may look and act like the movie star version of The People’s Governor, his policy proposals aren’t populist ideas, and his plan for spending reform is hardly grassrootsy.
“His across-the-board budget cut proposal would take billions and billions of dollars out of education, under the guise of budget reform,” says Monterey Bay area Assemblyman and Budget Committee Chair John Laird. “That’s why I’ve called it a ‘Trojan Hummer.’”
Although he campaigned as a progressive Republican, committed to governing for the people—not special interests—Schwarzenegger soon surrounded himself with Sacramento insiders—well-established conservative, pro-business advisors.
Shortly after he was elected in 2003, Schwarzenegger named Patricia Clarey as his chief of staff, a move that irked Democrats and consumer rights groups. Clarey had served as deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Pete Wilson. More recently, she took a leave from her job as vice president for governmental affairs of Health Net Inc., a Woodland Hills-based HMO, to work on Schwarzenegger’s campaign.
Soon after, Schwarzenegger appointed Richard Costigan, a top Chamber of Commerce lobbyist, as his legislative secretary.
Jamie Court, president of The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, criticizes the appointments and accuses the governor of putting the keys to government in the hands of big business.
“Big corporations shouldn’t be the gatekeepers of society’s policy matters, but Costigan’s appointment could very well make that the case,” Court says.
This year, shortly after the governor announced his 2005-2006 spending plan that would cut billions from education and health care, Democratic lawmakers fired back, attacking Schwarzenegger for pushing a budget that was out of touch with the interests of middle-class taxpayers.
They pointed to Schwarzenegger’s comments about his proposed across-the-board spending cuts—he said, “We don’t want to feed the monster”—as evidence that he intended to “starve the public sector.” Democratic critics compared Schwarzenegger to Grover Norquist, the radical anti-tax crusader, who created the starve-the-beast strategy of reducing government.
In January, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, D-Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times that the governor’s proposals were “crafted in the backrooms with the fingerprints of ideologues and corporate interest all over it.”
Late last week, a blog posted by Democratic campaign advisor Bob Mulholland accused Schwarzenegger of breaking a promise to California voters.
“Promise made,” it reads, “We need a public pension system that is fair to employees and to taxpayers,” quoting Schwarzenegger’s State of the State Address.
The Blog goes on spell out the “promise broken,” quoting Gerald Parsky, chairman of the UC Board of Regents: “‘Forcing new public employees to move to a 401(k)-style savings system—in which they would invest their own retirement money and assume the risk of playing the stock market—would hurt the University of California’s ability to attract top talent.’”
In a phone interview, Mulholland told the Weekly that Schwarzenegger’s agenda comes straight from the Bush Administration.
Mulholland asked a rhetorical question and answers it himself: “Who’s behind the governor’s policy ideas? Bush. Look at what he’s proposing: cutting back on government employee pensions, redistricting. My own view is that Arnold didn’t have a solution for the June budget battle so he came up with this fog of war for November—all these initiatives.
“If you look at these proposals—pensions, redistricting—they’ve got nothing to do with the budget or helping kids. Take redistricting. We’re in the middle of a war on terror. Gov. Schwarzenegger is working on changing precinct lines. We need a different governor, one who spends time on California’s behalf, not on Bush’s behalf.”
Court says the mastermind behind the Bush presidency also seems to be the brain behind Schwarzenegger’s brawn.
“It’s Karl Rove,” Court says. “The privatization of pension funds is a variation on the privatization of Social Security. The education reforms are a variation of No Child Left Behind. This is Bush—and not particularly Bush Lite. The redistricting is right out of Texas and [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay. This is Karl Rove, working though Arnold. We might even call him a Rove-Bot.”