January 11, 2005


Senator in the shadows as his agenda moves ahead (Daniel Weintraub, January 9, 2005, Sacramento Bee)

Amid all the hoopla that went along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's second State of the State speech, and all the talk of the governor's bold plan to attack some of the Capitol's most sacred cows, state Sen. Tom McClintock went almost unnoticed.

But as the recall election that ousted former Gov. Gray Davis finally seems to be bearing serious fruit, maybe this is a good time to give McClintock his due.

The steely economic conservative from the northern San Fernando Valley was present at the creation of the recall. One of his longtime aides - John Stoos - helped nurture the idea, his friend Ted Costa was the official sponsor, and McClintock himself attended the recall group's first press conference, before anyone was taking the thing seriously.

Then, as the campaign unfolded in the summer of 2003, McClintock entered the fray as a candidate for governor, offering a pointed, no-nonsense appraisal of the state's condition, and strong medicine to cure it.

As other Republicans dropped out of the race, clearing the way for actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, some urged McClintock to do the same. Political consultants and pundits warned that he was risking his political future by endangering Schwarzenegger's candidacy, but McClintock simply said he trusted the voters to decide whether he was a viable candidate, and not to waste their votes on him if he was not.

At the one and only debate featuring all the candidates, McClintock shined. More than once, he almost seemed to be offering Schwarzenegger a lifeline, and his novice opponent grabbed it, echoing the senator's comments. McClintock emerged as a sentimental favorite, with Republicans and Democrats both saying they admired his principled stands.

But principles or not, he lacked Schwarzenegger's movie-star credentials, and he could not budge the leader's numbers among a mass audience. McClintock faded down the stretch, finishing third behind Schwarzenegger and Democrat Cruz Bustamante, with 13 percent of the vote.

For the next year, McClintock watched from the Senate as Schwarzenegger learned the ropes in the Capitol, compromised with Democrats, avoided confrontation and, in the end, made little progress on the fundamental problems that bedeviled the state. The senator offered muted criticism when appropriate, support where he could.

Then, Wednesday night, suddenly everything changed. It was if the flashy governor were channeling his straight-laced colleague. Schwarzenegger's speech sounded almost as if McClintock had written it.

"Maybe I should have copyrighted some of my ideas," McClintock said with a laugh when I asked him later about the resemblance.

So all those conservative purists got a winning candidate and Mr. McClintock's ideas...pretty good deal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 11, 2005 10:21 PM

As long as the California Legislature remains in the hands of braying leftists who would be comfortable on the British bankbenches with Tony Benn, nothing will change.

Someone should have told Arnold a long time ago that just because you played Hercules in the movies don't think you can clean the Augean Stables.

Posted by: Bart at January 12, 2005 6:50 AM