Published on Thursday, October 9, 2003 by the Madison Capital Times
Arnold Could Frustrate Dems, GOP
by John Nichols
Don't cry for California.
The state just elected a pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, pro-public education governor who said he was ashamed of Republicans in Congress for trying to impeach Bill Clinton.
He placed himself to the left of many Democratic governors around the country, including Wisconsin's Jim Doyle, by eschewing an ironclad promise to avoid all tax increases.
He won as a reformer who held a broom aloft and promised to sweep insiders and special-interest manipulators out of the temples of government.
And he celebrated his victory by embracing his father-in-law, Sargent Shriver, who was George McGovern's vice presidential running mate in 1972.
No one need be under any illusions about Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's an admitted cad, he's a buddy of the very insiders he criticized during the campaign, and he is about to find out why ousted Gov. Gray Davis had such a hard time balancing the budget of a state that is home to the fifth largest economy in the world.
But he is not exactly the Ronald Reagan of the 21st century. He's not the conservative barbarian whom his critics fear and whom some of his supporters want.
In fact, his stands resemble those of the old-fashioned moderate Republicans who have pretty much been driven from the party in recent years. Think Dwight Eisenhower with an Austrian accent. Think John Anderson with muscles. Think Bill Clinton with a Republican Party membership card.
That could make Schwarzenegger a nightmare for George W. Bush. Imagine the comparisons. Bush wants to limit access to abortion; Schwarzenegger and Bush's Democratic opponent in 2004 disagree. Bush opposes gay rights initiatives; Schwarzenegger and Bush's Democratic opponent in 2004 defend them.
This could get interesting. Who knows, maybe Gov. Schwarzenegger will conveniently forget to vote for Bush in 2004, just as actor Schwarzenegger did in the 2000 Republican primary and the 2000 general election. But just as Schwarzenegger could turn out to be a frustration for Republicans, he could also prove to be a frustration for Democratic governors who mirror Gray Davis in their style and politics.
Davis was recalled because people saw him as a Democrat who was more interested in serving special interests than the public interest. He delivered for his campaign contributors while making the Democratic political base beg for scraps. A final flurry of liberal measures was insufficient enough to enthuse Latino, African-American, union and women voters about saving Davis' hide.
Had Davis tended to his political base, the Democratic and Democrat-leaning voters of California - a state that chose Al Gore over George W. Bush by more than a million votes in 2000 - he would have beaten the recall in a breeze, and there would not be a Gov. Schwarzenegger. He failed to do so, and he made himself highly vulnerable to a challenger who promised moderate governance and a clean sweep of Sacramento. Whether Schwarzenegger delivers on that promise means less than the fact that voters believed the change was desperately needed.
Democrats who govern like Republicans run the risk of finding that, when the attack comes, they have no army behind them. That's what happened to Gray Davis in California. And that's what will happen to other Democratic governors who follow the Davis model.
In fact, Democratic governors like Wisconsin's Jim Doyle should borrow Arnold Schwarzenegger's broom and start sweeping the influence peddlers out of their capitols.
If they don't, they had better prepare to do broom-to-broom battle with a Republican who is prepared to stake a better claim on the "reformer" mantle.
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