Wednesday, November 09, 2005

It is better to look good than it is to feel good

Use the cliche you prefer about style trumping substance in California. Pundits may spin the defeat of all the reform proposals as a personal rejection of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the state's structural problems persist, and in my view, Schwarzenegger has a freer hand to be even more recalcitrant with the Legislature. (Arnold sent signals along those lines in the closing days of the campaign when he hinted that he would not endorse a tax increase, even if the initiatives failed.) Prop 76 would have loosened the straitjacket of spending formulas that denies policymakers fiscal flexibility. Since that's kaput, Arnold can deny any new legislative spending schemes and say, "hey, my hands are tied."

UPDATE: At NRO, Arnie Steinberg offers a fairly positive take on the results and sees Schwarzenegger returning to his former, wheeler-dealer persona. (It's worth a read.) If the gov can make headway with the Dems, great. But Arnold's been burned every time he tried to negotiate with legislative leaders. Who's to say Nunez and Perata won't read the election results as a vindication of their policies, and push for tax hikes on "the rich" and even higher spending?

UPDATE, PART DEUX: Meantime, GOP consultant Dan Schnur says in 20/20 hindsight that Arnold should have reached out more to the middle by pairing his "conservative" initiatives with some centrist sweeteners. Paycheck protection + a new ban on offshore drilling? Budget reform + another daycare entitlement?

Puh-lease. Talk about muddling your message. The agenda sank for a lot of little reasons, and (as I've noted before) one big one: The Capitol establishment made this a referendum on Arnold, and the governor took the bait -- and got reeled in. Sure, it might be tougher to vilify Schwarzenegger if he offered government goodies to everyone, but how exactly would that "reform Sacramento so we can rebuild California"? Besides, a salient complaint about Arnold's agenda is that it was wonky: redrawing legislative districts; reforming the budgetary process; tweaking teacher tenure; limiting political activity by public employee unions. Paycheck protection and teacher tenure were the easiest measures to explain in a soundbite, and they weren't the linchpins to his reform package. I can't see anyone girding for battle so that we can have fairer congressional districts, no matter how much the state desperately needs them.

UPDATE, PART C: Dan Weintraub thinks the Legislature now has a freer hand to play hardball with Arnold:
Before [the special election], Schwarzenegger at least had the threat of going over their heads directly to the people. Now that option is gone, at least for the time being. Why would they take that development as a signal that it is time to compromise?

Indeed.

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