Posted: November 17, 2003
rnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as governor of California Monday morning. The oath was followed by an inaugural speech on the steps of the Capitol. Delivered before a crowd of 7,500 supporters, the speech was businesslike and studiously avoided gloating, although it was not without a touch of poetry. As Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman promised last week, the occasion was "simple and dignified"—surely the first time those words have been used to describe any part of the recent recall episode: the most colorful, confusing, arcane, fascinating, and unpredictable political event in recent memory.
A muted and somber inaugural ceremony usually befits the swearing-in of the successor to a politician who has died in office. Though Gray Davis was not recalled to the big statehouse in the sky, he did suffer a kind of political annihilation—only the second Governor in American history, and the first in California's, to be recalled, less than a year after being re-elected. But he was not the only casualty. For the most ardent critics of California's quirky system of direct democracy, the recall itself was a kind of deathblow to responsible government. Arnold's low key inauguration may disappoint his supporters, but some custodians of constitutional, representative government may think that the occasion deserves something even more somber.
But that sentiment, like much of what has been said and written about the recall, would be overwrought. In the end, not the least surprising aspect was how unsurprising the outcome was. Davis is out; Arnold is (overwhelmingly) in; and the world is not coming to an end.
Of course, it didn't look that easy a few months ago. As the recall movement picked up steam, the election was called, and the campaign began in earnest, fingers were wagged to weariness and tongues clucked to numbness chiding Californians on their weird and foolish ways. This writer himself fretted in the Weekly Standard that "in a large enough field, the winner might have as little as 10 percent [of the vote]." You can't entirely blame them (me). The progressives who created the recall prided themselves on their superior education in the "science" of politics. But it's hard to imagine a more ill-conceived, half-baked way of removing a sitting Governor: no criteria for initiating a recall; anyone with a few thousand dollars to spare and a handful of signatures allowed on the ballot; no primary or run-off elections; the Lieutenant Governor in the legally ambiguous and politically awkward position of being both constitutional successor (except in a recall!) and potential rival to the Governor. The list could go on.
Yet despite all its oddities, there was something quite ordinary, even reassuring, about how the voters responded to all this. From the initial field of 135 registered candidates the campaign quickly winnowed to the half-dozen remotely plausible contenders: Schwarzenegger, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, Green candidate Peter Camejo, state Senator and Ur-conservative Tom McClintock, former Olympic commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and—remoteliest of all—Arianna Huffington.
For a while, even this sub-set was unappealing enough to keep the worries, and the jokes, coming. Only when Arnold agreed to participate in the third and last of the scheduled debates, and gave an able if uninspiring performance, did the campaign seem to coalesce into a more standard form. Liberals rallied to the bland-but-safe Bustamante—who remained safe only because he remained bland. Conservatives—more slowly, and not quite unanimously—left McClintock who lives to fight another day, and backed Arnold.
When the confetti settled, Schwarzenegger had earned a commanding 49 percent of the total vote—a landslide compared to Bustamante's 32 percent and McClintock's 13.
Davis was rejected decisively, 55.5 percent to 44.5 percent, thus putting to rest yet another concern: a Governor (barely) recalled only to be replaced by someone even less popular, a candidate whose plurality would be less than the "no on recall" vote. But Arnold received 200,000 more votes than the number who voted to keep Davis.
So Now What?
One of Schwarzenegger's constant campaign refrains was his promise to be Governor "of all the people." Among other things, it points to his desire to include a broad range of liberal and conservative elements in his administration. One might have dismissed as a mere gimmick Schwarzenegger's much-publicized transition team—which included the Claremont Institute's Eloise Anderson and the Pacific Research Institute's Sally Pipes, as well as San Francisco Mayor Willy Brown and former Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich. But the senior staff he has named—what Sacramento Bee journalist Dan Weintraub calls a "yeasty mix of personalities and points of view"—seems to indicate that Arnold is serious on this point. Still, how long can this endure? A strong personality and immense popularity can smother even intense internal dissent; but eventually concrete policy choices will have to be made that will alienate one side or the other. (One crack has already appeared. After Dick Riordan—an advocate of education reform who has tangled with the teacher's union—was asked to be education secretary, the California Teachers Association representative withdrew from the transition team.)
Strong-arming his staff into agreement is one thing. The legislature will prove more obstreperous—and not only because it is an independent branch of government. The liberals who control the legislature are true-believers. The partisan fractiousness is intense because the differences are real. If Schwarzenegger recognizes this, could it be that his bipartisanship is just a ploy, a way of girding himself for real battle with the legislature?
Consider that for all of Schwarzenegger's talk about working with both sides of the aisle, he ran explicitly as a Republican in a process that openly invited non-partisanship (another progressive hobby-horse). It is still unclear to what degree he shares the principles of the party of Lincoln. But having cast himself—at least to some extent—as a partisan, he may as well make some use of it. He can begin by recalling that the spirit of unity he calls for, if it is to be something real, cannot merely be a matter of splitting the differences. Compromise, as opposed to mere concessions and horse-trading, requires some basic agreement about principle. Lincoln said that the Union could not endure half slave and half free. "It will become all one thing, or all the other." Likewise, our current political differences—blue counties vs. red—cannot be resolved by everyone simply becoming purple. Either our rights come from nature and nature's God, or they come from government. Either the natural family is the basic unit of society, or it is not. One view is, or will become, the real California. To be sure, the policy debates in Sacramento are not framed in such stark terms. But such questions are implicit in every serious political dispute of our time.
It is too much to expect that Arnold will become the Governor of natural rights republicanism. But he is on to something in emphasizing that Sacramento is unaccountable, irresponsible, out-of-touch. These are the institutional corollaries to modern-day liberalism. But to do something about Sacramento's structural defects, he needs to abandon his gooey embrace of Common Cause catch-phrases like campaign finance reform and "open government" and take a page from the progressives who helped him find his way into the governorship. They understood that pursuing a political agenda meant controlling the levers of government, and that how government works is integral to what it does.
Arnold could do a great service to conservatism—even unwittingly—by sticking with his theme that the state's political structure is broken, and pursuing the bold reforms necessary to begin fixing it. And oddly enough, the recall itself provides an almost perfect occasion for doing so.
By luck more than design, the potentially disastrous recall gamble produced a clear, popular winner. Yet polls show that the voters recognize how badly it could have gone wrong, and are deeply dissatisfied with how the recall process is constructed. Using care and intelligence, Arnold could capture and shape the current mood of cautious optimism. But he would need to act quickly, and recognize just how fortuitous the current situation is. Had Davis defeated the recall, the status quo would have been maintained, even strengthened. A near-miss would have sent the recall's backers, rather than Davis, into political oblivion—dragging whatever was left of the state's conservative movement with them. By the same token, had the recall succeeded, but elevated an unpopular fringe candidate to the statehouse, the chorus of national and international ridicule would have swelled, and any talk of structural innovation would be impossible.
Having passed between this Scylla and Charybdis, California now could follow its new Governor in one ambitious goal: amending the state Constitution to make the state legislature function more responsibly and better serve the people it represents. The suggestions that follow would not, by themselves, realize conservatives' highest ambitions of slaying Leviathan. The bureaucracy, the Byzantine relationship between Sacramento and local governments, not to mention the problems of immigration, education, and "the culture," would all have to be addressed eventually. But by beginning with the state legislature, Schwarzenegger could avoid some of the most vexing pitfalls of the culture wars (which he has shown every inclination to avoid), while still striking at liberalism's institutional stronghold. Herewith, some suggestions:
Expand the Size of the Legislature
Liberals are always telling us to recognize and embrace our wonderful diversity. Fine, let's diversify the legislature. With just 40 members, the state Senate is the size of a small town-hall meeting. The Assembly, with 80 members, is hardly better. How can California's great variety of people, professions, even climates be represented adequately by so few? The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members. There is no reason California's lower house couldn't expand to merely half that number, which would still be almost three times larger than its current size.
Tripling the size of the Assembly would not only make it more representative, it would obviate the need for another gimmicky conservative favorite: redistricting. It's true that the current shortage of competitive seats contributes to the legislature's fossilization. But rather than pursue the fruitless exorcism of the ghost of Elbridge Gerry, we could revivify the Assembly's districts by bringing them down to a more human size.
Schwarzenegger, like many people, likes to rail against "special interests." And, like everyone who mindlessly utters this mantra, he has little idea of what he is talking about. Which interests are "special," and what makes them so? Isn't everyone's interest special to him? In truth, as The Federalist explains, competing interests are a natural and ineradicable part of modern political life. The trick is to balance, check, and moderate them. A relatively large assembly of representatives, which can both reflect and restrain the state's many discordant elements, is an important part of the solution.
Create a Real Senate
In addition to being too small, the state Senate is not even a real Senate. Bicameralism is intended to offset not re-enforce the tendencies of each house. But right now, the Senate—which is apportioned by population—simply emphasizes the Assembly's over-representation of California's major urban centers.
Replacing this arrangement with two senators from each of California's 58 counties would expand to the Senate to 116 members—not a radical increase. But the point of a Senate is precisely to represent something more than mere numbers. As long as counties remain artificial creatures of the central government, there will be no permanent counter-weight to Sacramento's centripetal impulses. A Senate that reflected the geographical, as well as demographic, diversity of the state would not deny the importance of California's most heavily populated areas—it would simply balance it. That means, of course, that San Francisco and Los Angeles would cry foul at the first whiff of this proposal. And a federal judge would almost certainly find that this reform violates the "one man, one vote" canard. But it's worth trying, if only to explain the point of a two-house legislature, both to the voters and to the judges. As for the big cities, their objections are special pleading from areas that are currently over-represented in the legislature twice, and also happen to be the most liberal parts of the state. (Arnold, therefore, might find special appeal in this proposal. The Bay Area was the only region that failed to vote for him, and along with Los Angeles and a few other coastal counties, voted no on the recall.)
California's current arrangement of a full-time legislature, with term-limited legislators, has things exactly backwards. Some will say that repealing term-limits is too tough to sell. But in the 13 years since California implemented term limits by initiative, the performance of the legislature has not noticeably improved. In fact, it is more unpopular than ever. The main effect of term limits was not to bring in "fresh blood," as its backers claimed, but simply to rotate the same people through different offices: max out in the Assembly, then move on to the state Senate, then perhaps a few terms as a county supervisor. It's the same people; why not just leave them where they are--accountable, as they have ever been, to their constituents in every election, but perhaps a bit wiser, more savvy about the bureaucracy, less awed by lobbyists. A part-time legislative session, by contrast, would genuinely limit the politicians' scope for mischief and would go much further to realizing the goal of "citizen-legislators" that term-limits was supposed to achieve. Legislators who have to earn a living for half (or more) of the year would be far more attuned to the problems of ordinary citizens.
Even taken together, these reforms are not a panacea for our ailing politics. But they would be a good start, and would at least reinvigorate the right kind of debate. After recalling our elected officials, we might profitably spend some time recalling what the point of all this is anyway.