Round 2-Arnold and the Legislature: Now That He's Won the Governorship, Arnold Schwarzenegger Has an Even Harder Fight on His Hands-Getting California Back on Track and Working with the Democrat-Controlled Legislature

Article excerpt

Wrapping up his campaign for governor in the historic California recall election this fall, Arnold Schwarzenegger drew 10,000 people to a raucous rally on the steps of the state Capitol. As remnants of the rock band Twisted Sister blared the campaign's theme song--"We're not gonna take it"--Schwarzenegger wielded a broom to symbolize his drive to clean up the mess in Sacramento. Elect him governor, the actor promised his cheering supporters, and "we're going to kick some serious butt."

As Schwarzenneger spoke, onlookers filled the windows of the century-old Capitol building above him, the faces pressed against the glass, their eyes peering out at the thousands gathered below. It was as if a revolution had reached the palace gates, and the royalty was bracing for the final assault they knew was coming.

Two days later, it came. The recall ousted Governor Gray Davis convincingly, on a 55-45 vote, and Schwarzenegger triumphed easily in the separate race to replace the governor. The Republican action hero from Austria piled up 49 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate field, compared with just 32 percent for the leading Democrat, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante. Counting support for conservative state Senator Tom McClintock, the Republicans took 62 percent of the vote in this Democrat-heavy state.


The message, according to Schwarzenegger and almost anybody who was watching: The voters want change. "For the people to win," Schwarzenegger said in his acceptance speech on election night, "politics as usual must lose."

Some who supported the recall and Schwarzenegger say his victory was only the beginning, that the Legislature will be the next target of the people if lawmakers don't fall in line behind the Schwarzenegger agenda. Indeed, the governor-elect, in his first press conference after the election, promised to appeal to the voters if the Democrats who still control the Legislature try to stymie him.

But inside the Capitol, reaction was mixed. Some Democrats were defiant. Others said they were looking to make peace with the new chief executive.

Angriest were those on the Democratic left. After five years of compromising with the centrist Davis, they were hoping that in his second and final term the Democratic governor would begin to agree with more of their agenda and help them enact it. Ironically, under pressure to consolidate his base with the recall approaching, Davis had begun to do just that in the days before the election. He signed landmark legislation granting marriage-like rights to same-sex partners, for instance, and a bill requiring employers of more than 50 people to provide health insurance for their workers.

Adding to their ideological ire was the fact that Schwarzenegger won the governor's office despite having no experience in government and while telling the voters little about how he would live up to his vow to balance the budget, cut taxes and protect education funding.

Democrat Senator Sheila Kuehl, who hopes to take over the Senate leadership next year, was contemptuous of Schwarzenegger as she watched the election returns come in from the Los Angeles hotel ballroom where Davis would later deliver his concession speech. The Senate, she said, would have to save the state from Schwarzenegger's ignorance.

"He doesn't know anything about running the state," Kuehl said. "So either he will propose a lot of stuff he can't do, and we'll have to govern, or he'll be pretty well manipulated by people who have an agenda--very much the way I think the president of the United States has been handled by people who are really telling him how to do these things. In which case we may have to counteract things that are worse than things he proposed on his own."

Asked if Schwarzenegger would be received civilly by legislative Democrats, Kuehl replied: "We have received everyone civilly." Then she added: "I don't know if everybody is going to go the State of the State [speech]. …