Debra J. Saunders

People who don't live here think that Californians must be insane to even contemplate electing Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor.

Critics charge that Ah-nold hasn't explained what he'd do to balance the state budget.

News flash: Facing a recall, Gov. Gray Davis doesn't have a plan either -- unless you call spending more than you take in a plan.

Rather than taking charge, Davis ceded the heat to triple the vehicle license fee to his finance director -- as if it weren't the governor's call. Davis signed a phony budget to skate through the 2002 election without making difficult decisions. Ergo the $38 billion shortfall.

The scolds warn that The Terminator is not experienced. They speak as if it doesn't matter that Schwarzenegger arrived in America broke and speaking broken English, and that, by force of will, he became a big-box-office movie star, wildly successful investor and political player. Arnold's experience is living the American dream to the hilt.

Davis has political experience in spades -- yet he dragged his feet on the energy crisis and state budget woes.

"Experience," in California politics, has come to mean spineless. Elites trash California voters for not knowing what they want -- more spending or no new taxes. The sneerers conveniently ignore that "experienced" politicians from both parties won't tell voters that they have to make that choice.

Democrats pushed for more spending, without leveling with voters about the price tag. Republicans opposed higher taxes, without advocating the deep spending cuts needed to balance this year's $100 billion budget, that was $38 billion in the hole.

Witness Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante -- the no-on-recall, but-vote-for-me Democrat. Presto change-o, now that he's running to replace a recalled Davis, Bustamante has come out against the vehicle license fee hike. He says the state can raise the car tax's $4.2 billion by hiking taxes on alcohol, tobacco and the wealthy. His campaign slogan could be: Only other people will pay higher taxes.

"Experienced" politicians such as California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres keep slinging the same sordid guilt-by-association mud, because that's all they know how to do.

On ABC Sunday, Torres charged that "Schwarzenegger is keeping friends with (former Gov.) Pete Wilson." And: "What happens when Arnold becomes governor? Is he going to try to implement (Proposition) 187, which the courts have partially overturned?" Somehow, experience prompted Torres to fault Schwarzenegger for supporting a measure that 59 percent of California voters approved -- not because the measure was hard on immigrants, as Torres has implied, but because the measure promised to curb benefits for i-l-l-e-g-a-l immigrants. That's why the Austrian American supported it.

Would Schwarzenegger be a leader?

Ah-nold has the germ of greatness -- he could turn into a great candidate, or a great failure of a candidate. Only time will tell.

On the downside, Ah-nold voted in a mere five of the last 11 statewide elections. Last year, Schwarzenegger authored Proposition 49, an ill-conceived measure that mandated spending for after-school programs; it passed, and added another budgeting mandate that makes it harder for Sacramento to pass good budgets.

On the upside, Ah-nold's support for government programs is tempered with his core belief in individual enterprise. The savvy businessman should know what to do to keep businesses from leaving the state.

Some have suggested that Schwarzenegger should pledge to not raise taxes in order to cinch the GOP vote. That is, he should act like other "experienced" politicians by promising more something for more nothing. He should parrot "experienced" pols who promise to cut a deal with left-leaning legislators -- which can only happen by papering over costly debt.

If Schwarzenegger wants to show that he can be a leader, however, he won't take such a pledge. Instead, he'll explain how he wants to reform the workers' comp system, eliminate business-hostile regulations and cut the best deal he can cut on the budget, given the fact that the Legislature, alas, is packed with liberal Democrats.

If Schwarzenegger wants to lead, he should start by treating voters like adults. In so doing, Ah-nold could demonstrate the clear advantage of electing a governor who is not "experienced."


Debra J. Saunders


 
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