Television allowed us to visualize the fight against "special interests" Governor Schwarzenegger is spoiling for. The tedious build-up he was given at his State of the State speech Wednesday night said almost all. (Sacbee audio here, under the story on the speech.) The silly Assembly Speaker Nunez, the investigated Secretary of State Shelley, the investigated President Pro Tem of the Senate Perata, the boorish, ponderous Lt. Gov. Bustamante (whom the Governor sarcastically congratulated for "his wonderful speech" introducing him), all those officials down to members of the State Board of Equalization. The special interests were on parade. How could Hollywood script more sleazy villains, from criminal to petty official? And villains are what the Governor needs.
The Governor's State of the State address is the initial volley in a war that will last into the fall and beyond, to the 2006 elections. He set up four major areas for reform, in which he speaks for people against the "special interests": fiscal reform (his most interesting and potentially most effective proposal), pension reform, education, and redistricting. He has called a special session of the legislature to deal with all these areas. If he doesn't get what he wants, he can call for an election involving referenda as early as this summer.
Pension reform is the easiest to pass in the special session (particularly if the changes are cosmetic). And he can get superficial education reform as well. But he called for merit pay, performance standards, and charter schools—all measures that will aggravate the teacher unions. These reforms won't work well on a referendum ballot. Can he promise the teachers something in return for changes?
The legislators responded coldly to his redistricting proposal, and even if it went through (and wasn't struck down by the Ninth Circuit as a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act) there is no guarantee it would change the legislature's composition appreciably. Expanding the size of the legislature would produce more interesting results, but budget and reform-conscious voters might gag at the idea of more politicians. But what if they worked part-time? What if he swapped a change in term limits? Anyway, term limits means bureaucracy protection, for they prevent the formation of a majority that has the power and will to eliminate the bureaucracy that protects "special interests.")
But the best prospect for conservatives is budgetary reform. "We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem." The budget is largely on automatic pilot, with much spending mandated by initiative. He proposes another automatic system, this one cutting the budget across the board when it exceeds revenues. (Sounds fair, but wait until it is put into practice.) In order to be worth doing (at its best like Colorado's TABOR), budgetary reform would have to be done via referendum following the special session. That would be the great prize of his administration. Politically he would have the conservatives on his side (it would have to be tough enough) and enough Dems and independents to win; he can do it, especially after the special session fracas and predictable non-performance. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
Schwarzenegger praised his California Performance Review as the lighted fuse that would lead to a blowing up the boxes he advocated in his first State of the State address. But this is a mixed bag as we have previously noted. The Governor sought out more villains as he proposed reforming the corrections department, building more roads, cutting regulations discouraging home construction, fostering energy production, and (at relatively little cost, or so he says) giving low-income Californians a drug discount card.
Most of this is pleasing to conservatives, especially of the market-oriented type, and it certainly should be. If these proposals don't eliminate the administrative state in California, they go a long way toward putting it in the course of ultimate extinction. The key here is to demand much of his opponents, keep the Republicans unified, and make sure public attention is focused on the Democrats' enslavement to "special interests." If he gets his way, Governor Schwarzenegger will have done the cause of liberty boundless good.
Crucial to his success is what fills the Governor's soul. Is his speechwriter's phrase, "A time for choosing," a throw-away line for older conservatives, intended to recall Ronald Reagan's speech endorsing Barry Goldwater, or a recognition of a regime crisis, as it was for Reagan?