Who is he?

first_imgOne key question hovers over California’s governor in the wake of his Thursday State of the State speech: Who is the real Arnold Schwarzenegger? Democrats cannot be sure that just because he’s adopting a large part of their agenda – for now – that he will stick with it after the November election. And many Republicans are saying they’re not quite sure Schwarzenegger himself knows who is the genuine Arnold. “I’m not sure we’ve seen the real Arnold yet,” says Steve Frank of Simi Valley, a longtime Republican activist and campaign official who writes an arch-conservative blog. “I’m not sure he knows. It’s not that he doesn’t tell the truth. He tells the truth of the day.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson That question – whether the governor’s newly espoused ideas are for real – can make or break his November chances because it’s so closely tied to the issue of public trust that rose up to bite Schwarzenegger in his disastrous special election last fall. Is he the firmly pro-business governor who vetoed two proposals to raise the minimum wage, loudly calling them “job killers?” Or is he the governor who Thursday formally proposed a $1 an hour increase in the minimum wage? Is Schwarzenegger the fellow who balanced last year’s budget in part by upping fees for state colleges and universities enough to cost the average student an additional $4,000 over four years? Or is he the guy who vows not to raise fees any further, claiming in his speech this will “ease the burden” on college families? Is the real Arnold the governor who promised to “throw away the credit card” if voters passed two bond measures in March 2004? Or the one who Thursday advocated $68 billion over 10 years in new infrastructure bonds for freeways, bridges and other projects? Is the real Schwarzenegger the governor who made Rob Stutzman, one architect of the 2000 ballot initiative banning gay marriage, his communications director? Or is he the guy who last month installed Susan Kennedy, an open lesbian “married” in a Hawaiian ceremony, as his chief of staff? Is he the braggadocious movie star who declaimed loudly in 2003 that he’s so rich he’d never need campaign donations, or is he the unctuous politician who sets records for taking contributions? Those questions and more give voters of all ideological stripes reason to wonder as Schwarzenegger works to seem like an independent centrist. They wonder if his adopting organized labor’s pet cause of minimum-wage increases means he’s no longer the conservative who backed a ballot initiative aiming to keep labor unions from raising political money. Or if it’s all just a masquerade designed strictly to co-opt the issues of prospective re-election rivals, with him planning all the while to revert to his former self once re-elected. At the same time, many conservative Republicans who last fall spent time and money on his four failed “year of reform” ballot initiatives wonder if the guy they backed then was genuine. “You don’t gain Republican support by raising the minimum wage,” said Frank. “It’s beginning to look like we lost everything when we lost on those ballot initiatives in November – including losing the governor himself. They’re going to tell us Republicans to support the governor this fall, because the Democrat is worse. But that won’t energize the Republican base and volunteers.” So it all comes down to trust. Plainly, conservative Republicans no longer fully trust the man they helped elect. They’re still miffed he picked Kennedy, a former Davis administration official, to be his top aide, gratuitously adding that he could find no one in the GOP qualified to run his office. Then again, many Democrats he may have mollified with that choice are likely to be alienated again by his picking Steve Schmidt – now an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney – to manage his campaign. Just last week, veteran Republican consultant Dan Schnur described Schmidt as one who “goes for the jugular.” The doubts on both sides of the aisle give new importance to the near-confluence of Schwarzenegger’s dismal late-2005 approval rating – 39 percent in one poll, 32 percent in another – and the actual percentage of Republicans among the state’s registered voters (37 percent). These figures mean virtually all the governor’s current support comes from Republicans, almost none from Democrats or independents. So he must hang onto every Republican he can, because no matter what he does now, many Democrats will remember things he said about them over the last two years, “girlie men,” “losers” and all. How likely are the policy shifts Schwarzenegger outlined to win back substantial numbers of union members and public-education backers, both thoroughly alienated by his November ballot measures? Not very, based on remarks of some Democrats. “He’s two years late and a dollar short (on his minimum-wage proposal),” said Art Pulaski, chief of the California Labor Federation. Teachers and parents of schoolchildren also are unlikely to forget their tussles of the last two years with Schwarzenegger over his broken funding promises, just because he now proposes giving them part of what he pledged in 2004. “It’s like somebody taking $100 from you, then offering to give $50 back and expecting you to like it,” observed Jack O’Connell, the Democratic state schools superintendent. One thing for sure: The presence of attack-dog consultants such as Garry South and Bob Mulholland, now working for Democratic candidates Steve Westly and Phil Angelides, guarantees a flood of TV commercial reminders about Schwarzenegger’s long list of inconsistencies. Which raises doubt about how much the governor can achieve with his current squirming and shifting. Thomas D. Elias is a writer living in Southern California. Write to him by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more