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The Governator seeks another term

George Will

SAN FRANCISCO – The governor’s office here is in the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building, named for the early 20th-century Republican populist, arguably California’s most consequential chief executive. So far.Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican populist, practices what Leon Trotsky preached – permanent revolution. He is in perpetual campaign mode, wielding his celebrity and theatricality to keep the Legislature nervous about being bypassed by lawmaking-by-referendum, a constitutional weapon that is a Hiram Johnson legacy.If Schwarzenegger successfully employs the plebiscitary mechanism this year, he will approach re-election next year ranked among the state’s most transformative governors. And ripples raised by the boulders he is throwing into this nation-state’s political pool will roll eastward across the country.Placed in office by plebiscite – the recall of Gov. Gray Davis – just 16 months ago, Schwarzenegger has started the clock on a countdown to what could be a November to remember. He has submitted to the Democratic-controlled Legislature four proposals aimed at unlocking some interlocking political and economic irrationalities produced by a political class that has treated public office as private property. Because the Legislature probably will not act soon and affirmatively, ballot language has been drafted and fund-raising for four ratification campaigns has begun.One initiative would empower school districts to award teachers merit pay based on performance as the districts decide to measure that. Merit pay pits Schwarzenegger against the 335,000-member California Teachers Association and other teachers unions.A second initiative would change the retirement system for state and local employees, now 2 million strong. The state, facing a deficit of at least $8 billion, will pay a $2.6 billion share of those employees’ retirement this year, up from only $160 million just four years ago. Under Schwarzenegger’s proposal, government workers hired after June 2007 would be enrolled in privately managed accounts akin to 401(k)s, with the state matching up to 6 percent of their salaries, 9 percent for public safety officers. Sixteen states have adopted or are considering private accounts as voluntary options. Opposition by government employees unions, who nationwide wield the investment power of many hundreds of billions of dollars in retirement funds, killed a similar proposal in California seven years ago.In most Schwarzenegger movies things blow up, and a third initiative is part of his promise to “blow up the boxes” of government. It would impose across-the-board spending cuts when the Legislature cannot achieve a balanced budget. This would counter the effect of many previous referendums that mandate spending, such as the one that guarantees 40 percent of general revenues for elementary and secondary education. They have placed roughly 70 percent of the general fund budget beyond the Legislature’s control.Regarding spending-by-referendum, Schwarzenegger, too, is a sinner. His worst decision as governor was supporting a referendum committing $6 billion in state funds (counting interest on the bonds) for stem cell research to stimulate biotech industries. That is “industrial policy,” aka socialism.Schwarzenegger’s fourth and most important initiative would end the racket of redistricting devoted to incumbent-protection. In November, not one of 153 state legislative or congressional districts changed party control. Schwarzenegger proposes taking redistricting away from the political class’s computers and empowering a panel of retired judges to draw district lines. Schwarzenegger delightedly recalls that when he was in Washington for the Inauguration, some members of Congress, not just Californians or Democrats, begged him to abandon his – to them – appalling assault on the right of legislators to pick their voters.Democrats now hold 33 of California’s 53 congressional seats. Last November, just three of the 53 races were won with less than 60 percent. Increasing competitiveness statewide probably would disproportionately increase Republican turnout in a state Bush lost by 10 percent in 2004, without seriously campaigning in it. If California again becomes competitive in presidential elections, Democratic candidates, deprived of 55 sure electoral votes, will be disadvantaged.If all four measures go to the ballot – “the train,” Schwarzenegger says, “has already left the station”; the process “is on automatic pilot” – he expects opponents to spend a combined $200 million. He plans to raise $50 million and believes that if he is outspent by only four to one, he will win. His confidence approaches mysticism. Extending an arm, his palm toward his face and his fingers curved as though holding an invisible orb, he says ingenuously, “If I can see it” – any goal – “I can achieve it. And I have the ability to see it.”He sees California’s political system reopened, like concrete cracked by a jackhammer, and sees the state’s social system reinvigorated by an economy liberated. “The world,” says this man who is used to being looked at, “is looking at us.” Come November, the nation certainly will be.George Will’s e-mail address is georgewill@washpost.com.


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