The Governator rides high

A recent poll reveals that Californians support Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's performance in office by almost a 2—to—1 margin. Startling as this enthusiasm in a dispirited state may be, it is only part of the story of his extraordinary success in office, and probably understates his political strength.

The trend in his polls seems to be upward. Typically, inexperienced celebrities, who assume office in difficult circumstances, fall in popularity, once they face the real problems of governing. But not Arnold. And, given the track record of Field Polls in overstating the strength of Democrats and liberals, and understating that of Republicans, the Governator, as he is familiarly known, may enjoy even higher support among the California electorate.

Comparisons with the polling strength of his predecessors are meaningless. George Deukmejian, a Republican Governor during Reagan's Presidency, actually polled 72% support in 1985. Remarkable as this level of approval may be, The Duke, as he was known, was never able to wield political power comparable to Arnold's today. The former Governor Deukmejian is barely remembered at all by the general public, and quietly practices law.

His polling number aside, the Governator brings two other extraordinary sources of power to his job, which make him unique in the history of California politicians, and promise to make his governorship one of the most memorable (and visible), not to mention transformative, in the history of American politics. In another generation, there may well be statues of Governor Schwarzenegger decorating public spaces in many California cities.

One distinctive source of power being expertly wielded by Schwarzenegger is the ability to place on the ballot, and then pass, initiatives, referenda, and recall measures. Due to his ample nine—figure personal wealth, he can easily and quickly assemble the required signatures to get any reasonable measure he wants on the next statewide ballot. There is no need to worry about raising money to finance a signature campaign, even if ultimately other donors come up with the money.

Schwarzenegger has already demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction, his ability to pass difficult, complex, and controversial ballot measures. In early March, the voters approved two measures refinancing the state's debt, and expanding its borrowing limits, while limiting future debt growth. Both measures had been strongly disapproved by the public in early polling, but Arnold's personal campaigning turned public opinion around, and both measures handily passed.

The State Legislature, strongly dominated by Democrats in both chambers, got the message: if they stand—up to the Governor, he can go over their collective heads to the electorate, and get what he wants. And while he is campaigning around the state, he might just mention the names of individual legislators who have obstructed his plans, and endorse their opponents. Since most Californians have no idea who represents them in the State Senate or Assembly, a high—profile visit by the Governator to their local shopping center (his favorite venue for rallies) could easily trigger a defeat for the incumbent.

Now THAT is what I call political leverage! No President of the United States has ever had the ability to go over the heads of Congress and pass legislation by direct ballot. And no President has ever had the ability to visit local constituencies and defeat a substantial portion of his legislative opponents. Big as California is, its Legislature is comparatively small. The 40 State Senators each represent 846,791 Californians, on average, more than Members of Congress. The districts of the 80 Assembly Members could each be visited by the Governator in three weeks, if he held four rallies a day during a statewide bus tour. Focusing on key opponents, he could accomplish his purpose in a few days.

But Governor Schwarzenegger's iron fist is sheathed in a velvet glove. He has already achieved legendary status for his ability to schmooze even his fiercest opponents. Being a global celebrity certainly helps. Sharing a cigar with a movie star is a perk that no lobbyist for the prison guards union or Exxon can match. Flying down to Los Angeles in the Governor's personal Gulfstream jet for dinner with Maria and the kids (and maybe a Hollywood star or two), and flying back to Sacramento afterwards, is a perk no other governor could ever hope to approach.

Schwarzenegger even attends fundraisers for his former opponents. Yesterday, he raised money for Tom McClintock, whose rival ballot GOP presence on the recall ballot threatened (at first) Arnold's plan to win the governorship. Democrats in the Legislature have similarly benefited from the Governator's ability to draw check—writers to dinners and rallies for their campaign funds.

Outside of war, there has rarely, if ever, been a coincidence of a need for leadership with the appearance of a great leader, as formidable as California experiences today. The State of California's serious problems are almost all of political origin, and therefore solvable by political means.

The state bureaucracy is overstaffed, poorly—staffed, and greatly overpaid, compared to private industry. Public employee unions contribute vast sums to state politicians, to ensure that the gravy train continues. State services are mediocre at best, yet a large burden on taxpayers. The upper income groups bear very heavy income taxes, driving away desirable jobs. The state education system is mired in mediocrity even worse than the national average.

The need, in short, is for structural reform. Only a leader able to identify problems, communicate solutions, and force them through the legislature — or into law via ballot initiatives — has a chance. This is a script custom—written for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the leading man role.

Fortunately, the United States Constitution's ban on foreign—born Presidents ensures that Arnold Schwarzenegger will not abandon California for higher office. At least anytime soon. Many voices already call for amending the Constitution to permit him to eventually run for President. But passing a Constitutional Amendment is not a simple process, and requires three—quarters of state legislatures as well as Congress to approve the change.

There is plenty of room for Arnold Schwarzenegger to enter the history books without ever occupying the Oval Office. Adding the title 'greatest governor ever' to the title of biggest box office draw may or may not be enough to satisfy his ego. But it is more than enough to keep him busy for the next 10 years or so.

A recent poll reveals that Californians support Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's performance in office by almost a 2—to—1 margin. Startling as this enthusiasm in a dispirited state may be, it is only part of the story of his extraordinary success in office, and probably understates his political strength.

The trend in his polls seems to be upward. Typically, inexperienced celebrities, who assume office in difficult circumstances, fall in popularity, once they face the real problems of governing. But not Arnold. And, given the track record of Field Polls in overstating the strength of Democrats and liberals, and understating that of Republicans, the Governator, as he is familiarly known, may enjoy even higher support among the California electorate.

Comparisons with the polling strength of his predecessors are meaningless. George Deukmejian, a Republican Governor during Reagan's Presidency, actually polled 72% support in 1985. Remarkable as this level of approval may be, The Duke, as he was known, was never able to wield political power comparable to Arnold's today. The former Governor Deukmejian is barely remembered at all by the general public, and quietly practices law.

His polling number aside, the Governator brings two other extraordinary sources of power to his job, which make him unique in the history of California politicians, and promise to make his governorship one of the most memorable (and visible), not to mention transformative, in the history of American politics. In another generation, there may well be statues of Governor Schwarzenegger decorating public spaces in many California cities.

One distinctive source of power being expertly wielded by Schwarzenegger is the ability to place on the ballot, and then pass, initiatives, referenda, and recall measures. Due to his ample nine—figure personal wealth, he can easily and quickly assemble the required signatures to get any reasonable measure he wants on the next statewide ballot. There is no need to worry about raising money to finance a signature campaign, even if ultimately other donors come up with the money.

Schwarzenegger has already demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction, his ability to pass difficult, complex, and controversial ballot measures. In early March, the voters approved two measures refinancing the state's debt, and expanding its borrowing limits, while limiting future debt growth. Both measures had been strongly disapproved by the public in early polling, but Arnold's personal campaigning turned public opinion around, and both measures handily passed.

The State Legislature, strongly dominated by Democrats in both chambers, got the message: if they stand—up to the Governor, he can go over their collective heads to the electorate, and get what he wants. And while he is campaigning around the state, he might just mention the names of individual legislators who have obstructed his plans, and endorse their opponents. Since most Californians have no idea who represents them in the State Senate or Assembly, a high—profile visit by the Governator to their local shopping center (his favorite venue for rallies) could easily trigger a defeat for the incumbent.

Now THAT is what I call political leverage! No President of the United States has ever had the ability to go over the heads of Congress and pass legislation by direct ballot. And no President has ever had the ability to visit local constituencies and defeat a substantial portion of his legislative opponents. Big as California is, its Legislature is comparatively small. The 40 State Senators each represent 846,791 Californians, on average, more than Members of Congress. The districts of the 80 Assembly Members could each be visited by the Governator in three weeks, if he held four rallies a day during a statewide bus tour. Focusing on key opponents, he could accomplish his purpose in a few days.

But Governor Schwarzenegger's iron fist is sheathed in a velvet glove. He has already achieved legendary status for his ability to schmooze even his fiercest opponents. Being a global celebrity certainly helps. Sharing a cigar with a movie star is a perk that no lobbyist for the prison guards union or Exxon can match. Flying down to Los Angeles in the Governor's personal Gulfstream jet for dinner with Maria and the kids (and maybe a Hollywood star or two), and flying back to Sacramento afterwards, is a perk no other governor could ever hope to approach.

Schwarzenegger even attends fundraisers for his former opponents. Yesterday, he raised money for Tom McClintock, whose rival ballot GOP presence on the recall ballot threatened (at first) Arnold's plan to win the governorship. Democrats in the Legislature have similarly benefited from the Governator's ability to draw check—writers to dinners and rallies for their campaign funds.

Outside of war, there has rarely, if ever, been a coincidence of a need for leadership with the appearance of a great leader, as formidable as California experiences today. The State of California's serious problems are almost all of political origin, and therefore solvable by political means.

The state bureaucracy is overstaffed, poorly—staffed, and greatly overpaid, compared to private industry. Public employee unions contribute vast sums to state politicians, to ensure that the gravy train continues. State services are mediocre at best, yet a large burden on taxpayers. The upper income groups bear very heavy income taxes, driving away desirable jobs. The state education system is mired in mediocrity even worse than the national average.

The need, in short, is for structural reform. Only a leader able to identify problems, communicate solutions, and force them through the legislature — or into law via ballot initiatives — has a chance. This is a script custom—written for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the leading man role.

Fortunately, the United States Constitution's ban on foreign—born Presidents ensures that Arnold Schwarzenegger will not abandon California for higher office. At least anytime soon. Many voices already call for amending the Constitution to permit him to eventually run for President. But passing a Constitutional Amendment is not a simple process, and requires three—quarters of state legislatures as well as Congress to approve the change.

There is plenty of room for Arnold Schwarzenegger to enter the history books without ever occupying the Oval Office. Adding the title 'greatest governor ever' to the title of biggest box office draw may or may not be enough to satisfy his ego. But it is more than enough to keep him busy for the next 10 years or so.