October 16, 2005
You Decide -- Hogs or Kittens

By Debra Saunders

Why did Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sign a bill on Oct. 7 that requires manufacturers of cosmetics to disclose any ingredients that could cause cancer? This state has so many consumer warnings that people don't even notice them anymore, and it's not as if folks don't know there are chemicals in beauty products.

Then there's the fact that the bill's author, state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, tried to pass the measure by pushing a "yes" button at the desk of a Republican assembly-member who opposed the bill. (She later apologized, and her vote was pulled.)

The point is: Any good Republican governor would have vetoed the measure on the principle that Migden shouldn't be rewarded after her antics. Instead, Schwarzenegger signed the stupid bill. For all his bluster about confronting "girlie-men" legislators, in fact and action, Schwarzenegger is a go-along, get-along governor.

I mention this move to take issue with the conventional wisdom in Sacramento: For months, cognoscenti have proclaimed that Schwarzenegger called a special election and is supporting four ballot initiatives because his media handlers want to make millions off these measures. In private, however, his handlers say that Schwarzenegger is pushing the linchpin measure -- Proposition 76, which would curb state spending -- in order to protect himself from himself, and the sooner the better.

That is: Schwarzenegger knows that for every dollar the state takes in, it is spending close to a dime more -- with the help of his own signature. He knows he doesn't have the backbone to use his line-item veto powers to balance spending. He knows he's such a Mr. Nice Guy that he'll sign measures that a tough guy would veto. He knows the real-estate market could slump, thus depriving state and local governments of high tax flows. So, he asked his finance staff to write a measure to curb the growth of spending.

You could call Proposition 76, "Stop me before I spend too much." After months of the opposition spending some $80 million or more bashing the governor and his reform measures, polls show Proposition 76 is likely to crash and burn. As much as voters have opposed increasing taxes, they've also resented the special election and soured on the Recall Kid.

Team Arnold argues that the public polls are off, that its polls show the governor's initiatives gaining and that he could win all four initiatives the team is pushing. (Proposition 74 would make it easier for school districts to dismiss bad teachers, Proposition 75 would make it harder for public-employee unions to raise money for political purposes, and Proposition 77 would create fairer districts for congressional representatives and state legislators.) Team Arnold also thinks that media coverage misses the real story.

When maverick GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona visited Burbank on Monday, Team Arnold noted, a group of 100 nurses, who happened to be holding a meeting at the same hotel, asked the governor to join them. While ads proclaim Schwarzenegger an enemy to nurses, actual nurses applauded Schwarzenegger.

"I think we're gonna win all four," said Mike Murphy, Schwarzenegger's political consultant. "They know it is Arnold and the people versus the status quo in Sacramento, and they want change."

"They're smoking something," scoffed Roger Salazar on the no side. "Everything that we've seen has really shown very little movement one way or another."

Team Arnold thinks that when folks realize that the failure to pass Proposition 76 could lead to higher taxes, they'll vote "yes." The two sides know better than to advertise that more spending eventually leads to higher taxes.

Democratic strategist Darry Sragow had this to say: "I learned to never underestimate Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I think, even if he's in his best form, he is not going to win more than a couple of these." He added this caveat: While some say Proposition 76 is dead, "it is my own personal belief that of the four, the one that matters the most to the governor and his people is Proposition 76." Hence, Team Arnold will spend money and political capital to win this puppy.

I understand that voters aren't thrilled about the special election. But they should ask themselves what kind of Sacramento they want. If Schwarzenegger loses big, Big Government, labor and other interests will be emboldened. Democratic lawmakers will snap more ferociously at the governor's heels. There will be more money in politics, more negative ads and more government spending.

But if the governor wins more than he loses, dreamed one adviser, state lawmakers will behave "like kittens."

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

Debra Saunders

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