January 9, 2005

The Penny Drops For Arnold

Doubly Sure, a thoughtful liberal site, posts a "strange new respect" comment on Arnold Schwarzenegger's State of the State speech:

Clearly, this isn't some dramatic insight into the nature of the American political process but it is dramatic that somebody is doing something about it. There are some obvious immediate objections to the plan (how the judges selected, re-drawing lines in mid-decade) but the fact that a high-ranking politician appears to be making this a priority is amazing enough and warrants my appreciation.

There's nothing like redistricting to make lawmakers defensive and encourage bipartisan co-operation to support the status quo. Schwarzenegger is in a great position to advance this cause because he will never be affected by it.

In California, we have a clear record of what the contemporary left Democrats will do. They had a more complete grip on power than the G.O.P. does in Washington, and they did great damage the state, creating massive budget deficits, kowtowing to public employee unions among them the disgraceful prison guards' union, adopting every crackpot nostrum one could imagine, allowing the infrastructure to crumble. The schools, which are legally mandated to receive a fixed percentage of the budget, are, in the places that need good schools the most, a disaster.

The California Democrats are prisoners of identity politics, the public employee unions, the Hollywood left, and the trial lawyers (and I am a plaintiff's lawyer myself). The brilliant but incredibly flaky San Francisco liberal John Burton was their leader and icon until he was termed out.

Like the minority G.O.P. legislators, the Dems are immune to moderating influences because the district lines are drawn to protect incumbents, so the more extreme voters on each side tend to pick the candidates. (The same problem exists in New York, except the deal is the G.O.P. gets the Senate and the Dems the Assembly).

Arnold didn't live up to his promise at first, going for compromise, and borrowing to stave off the budget crisis. Now it appears he gets it, and is promoting redistricting, performance pay for teachers, defined-contribution pensions for new hires, and caps on the apparently automatic increases in social spending to apply when revenues aren't increasing. There are problems with some of these proposals, but these proposals are innovative and challenge the dominant lobbies.

Whether Arnold has national ambitions or not, he doesn't have to kowtow to anyone. He already has money and success.

Let's hope he finally had gotten it, and gets some of his ideas enacted, whether by a cowed Legislature or by vote of the people.

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