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San Francisco Chronicle Editorial
Gov. Schwarzenegger to stay the course
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
(10-18) 18:58 PDT -- GOV. Arnold Schwarzenegger said "something very special happened" in his third year in office.
"We found the groove," he proclaimed during an interview with our editorial board last week.
And Sacramento has been grooving with him. The just-completed legislative session represented one of the most productive in recent memory. The Republican governor and Democratic legislators worked together on essential long-term goals (upgrade our transportation systems and schools, help stop global warming) and short-term imperatives (raise the minimum wage, reform foster care, secure drug discounts for the uninsured) that will have an impact on Californians' lives.
The climate of cooperation in Sacramento can be traced directly to the conciliatory tone struck by Schwarzenegger on the night of last year's special-election debacle, when voters soundly rejected his ideas to weaken teacher tenure, overhaul the budget process and reform the way legislative districts are drawn. Schwarzenegger said the message from voters was "you fix it" -- by working with legislators -- in Sacramento.
The most dramatic adjustment was to his attitude. Lost were the references to legislators as "stooges" and "girlie men." Gone was the talk of going over their heads to the voters. Back was the charm offensive that marked the afterglow of his 2003 victory in the recall election, which created alliances that helped him gain legislative and voter approval a debt-refinancing bond package and passage of reforms to the workers' compensation system that he rightly called "the poison of our economy."
The cynical interpretation of the 2006 Schwarzenegger is that his move to the center is a ploy to get him re-elected in a decidedly blue state. There are never any guarantees in politics, of course, but in our view the willingness of a leader to openly admit mistakes and to change course -- in substance and in style -- is refreshing and healthy.
We have disagreed with Schwarzenegger at various times on various issues, including his gluttonous pursuit of campaign donations and his excessive deference to the whims of corporate lobbyists in his first two years. He took a much more balanced view toward business-related issues this year. One issue in which he has been consistently strong has been the environment -- from opposition to offshore drilling and road-building in pristine federal forests to his efforts to preserve Lake Tahoe.
Overall, he's on the right course.
Schwarzenegger calls himself "fiscally conservative, socially moderate, environmentally progressive" -- which puts him squarely in the California mainstream. He has shown an ability to listen and to lead.
His Democratic opponent, Treasurer Phil Angelides, has not demonstrated the leadership traits required to build coalitions that can overcome the egos, ambition and partisan rivalries that stand in the way of progress in Sacramento. Angelides has struggled to inspire Democrats in this election. In his meeting with us, many of his answers gave no indication that he either heard or cared about the question -- time after time, he defaulted to his wind-up stump monologues about education or closing tax loopholes.
The lack of excitement about Angelides is not just about his deficiencies in campaign donations and charisma. He has yet to articulate a compelling case that his election would make a difference in Sacramento. His increasingly strident appeal to Democratic loyalties is not resonating with the many Californians who worry less about party label than whether Republicans and Democrats are working together in their interest.
There is plenty of unfinished business in California, from structurally unbalanced budgets to a bloated and dysfunctional prison system. In each case, Schwarzenegger could have done more in his first term
-- and must make them priorities in his second. Each of those messes presented an opportunity for challenger Angelides to offer courageous and specific remedies. His options were too thick with rhetoric, too thin with plausible solutions.
In Schwarzenegger, Californians have a governor who can listen, focus and lead. He deserves to be re-elected on Nov. 7.