March 3, 2005


Schwarzenegger Bets It All on `Year of Reform' (Andrew Ferguson, March 1, 2005, Bloomberg)

After George W. Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger is on his way to becoming the most significant U.S. political figure of the first decade of the new century. Whether he will actually rise to that status will likely be determined over the next eight months. [...]

Even by today's standards, California's political class is unusually sclerotic. Of the state's 153 legislative and congressional seats, none switched party control last November, thanks to the legislature's painstaking gerrymandering.

Schwarzenegger's response to this unhappy state of affairs has been to seize the initiative process, a large cause of the state government's dysfunction, and refashion it into the mechanism by which the failure would be reversed.

For a special election in November he hopes to submit four initiatives that together would constitute radical, comprehensive political reform. One would require automatic spending cuts when the legislature fails to balance the books.

Another would allow school districts to initiate merit pay for teachers -- a direct shot at the teacher unions that have resisted education reform. A third would help unburden the state of its ruinous public-pension obligations.

The fourth is the most far-reaching of all. It would empanel an independent committee to redraw boundaries for political districts -- depriving the permanent legislature of its gerrymandering power and reintroducing competition to legislative elections.

``This takes Schwarzenegger back to square one,'' says Bill Whalen, a California political consultant and a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. ``It's the message that made him governor in the first place. He's saying if you can light a fire under these guys in Sacramento, you go a long way toward solving the state's other problems.''

For Republicans more conservative then he, the premise of an Arnold governorship was always two-fold: first, he'd be better than a Democrat; second, if he got done what he said he wanted to he could transform CA and its politics. So far, so good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 3, 2005 10:18 PM
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