The Governator is back. And this time, he takes no prisoners:
Declaring that “California’s day of reckoning is here,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said today the state should turn its dire budget straits into an opportunity to make government more efficient.
Speaking to a rare mid-year joint session of the Legislature and other constitutional officers, Schwarzenegger acknowledged the billions of dollars in spending cuts he has proposed to close a $24.3 billion hole in the budget will be devastating to millions of Californians.
“People come up to me all the time, pleading ‘governor, please don’t cut my program,'” he said. “They tell me how the cuts will affect them and their loved ones. I see the pain in their eyes and hear the fear in their voice, the lamentations of their women**. It’s an awful feeling. But we have no choice.
“Our wallet is empty. Our bank is closed. Our credit is dried up.”
Governor Schwarzenegger was elected in a pretty rare phenomenon, the recall. His predecessor, Gray Davis, had worked long and hard to make a mess of Sacramento’s business, and was generally a smarmy and unlikable guy. When Davis attempted to hike a very public tax, the vehicle license fee, voters who were already upset with Sacramento pushed him out of office.
Schwarzenegger was elected to be a reformer. He was (fairly) seen as outside the political process, and carrying the force of popularity that would allow him to shake things up. He appealed to a lot of voters who professed small-l libertarian leanings***, as he billed himself more as a fiscal conservative and social moderate/liberal. He was seen as having the political capital and bipartisan likability to actually go in and clean up the mess.
He tried to enact reforms, and was rebuffed by the entrenched power structure. Given California’s ballot proposition, he decided to pull an end-run around the legislature and “take the agenda directly to the people.” He called a special election, putting propositions including redistricting, spending restraints, and others directly up for the people of California to enact. And he was rebuffed spectacularly in that election.
Ever since then, he’s been a lame-duck governor, unable to really do anything but show up on TV at every wildfire explaining how much he cares. He’s been ineffective and the legislature has run roughshod, failing to restrain spending at every turn.
I think, though, that Schwarzenegger may be feeling ready for a resurgence. He was rebuffed for trying to rein in the legislature, and the legislature predictably went on to make a mess of things. I’m not sure he’ll necessarily come out with an explicit “I told ya so”, but you can be sure that will be a part of his sell. California didn’t listen when he tried to hit the brakes back in the boom years around 2005, but perhaps they’ll understand that folly now that the state is in shambles.
California is a mess. It wasn’t politically possible to clean it up during the boom. I’m not sure what incentive it will require to get Schwarzenegger to try to gain back his political capital and start slashing and burning through the legislature, but if revenge motivates him, I’ll take it.
** Okay, so I added that bit.
*** Many of us more ideological libertarians and conservatives tended to support Tom McClintock in the recall election, largely because his record as a force for smaller government was much more well-known and well-trusted than Schwarzenegger’s. In the end, I don’t recall which of them I voted for; I may have pragmatically chosen Arnold out of worry that the Democrat be elected.