Debra J. Saunders

I just got off the phone with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I'm a Republican. I want to vote for him. I want to believe. Schwarzenegger doesn't quite convince me. That little extra something that tells me he's one of us -- a Republican who is willing to cut spending and gut bad regulations -- is missing.

I think that man lurks behind the curtain, but I didn't quite hear him on the speakerphone.

I started by asking Schwarzenegger about the stories of him with women in the '70s. Just tell me, I said, that if you're governor, there won't be any more stories like those.

His answer: The stories weren't true. Saying outrageous things "made a lot of people come to the gym," which promoted bodybuilding. Now he's married, has four kids.

I was told I only had seven minutes for the interview, and it's not my job to tell a candidate when his answers aren't hitting the right buttons, but I can tell you this, gentle reader: A strong pledge of good behavior would have been nice.

What would Ah-nold do about SB60 -- the bill signed by Gov. Gray Davis that allows illegal immigrants to obtain California drivers' licenses? Ah-nold's "angry about it;" he's outraged that Davis signed a bill bereft of the background checks and other safeguards the governor had once demanded. Ah-nold will ask the legislature to take the bill back. If that tack fails, he'll put an initiative before the voters.

Good answer.

Would Schwarzenegger repeal the paid family leave act signed by Davis? His "common sense" tells him the bill, which has yet to take effect, will be bad for business, but he won't go out on a limb to say he'll work to repeal it.

If only he'd go out on that limb, I'd follow. But he didn't.

Of course, many Republicans will vote for Ah-nold, because he may be the best thing that can come of a bad situation.

The recall was not a good idea. For one thing, it sends voters the false message that they can just snap their fingers, and voila, a new, improved governor will appear. I'll add that when the other top GOP candidates -- two of whom have withdrawn -- took the no-new-taxes pledge, they added the implied message that years of fast-growing government can be erased with one vote. No muss, no fuss.

Schwarzenegger, to his credit, did not promise categorically not to raise taxes. That took political courage.

It's possible that next year, a new governor will confront another huge debt -- some fear the state budget deficit will be as large as $20 billion. The only way that some good can come of the recall is if a take-charge adult confronts the nasty realities that Sacramento hath wrought, and crafts a compromise of spending cuts and temporary tax increases that stop passing suffocating debt on for yet another year.

I don't see who, other than Schwarzenegger, has the mojo to do that.

GOP state Sen. Tom McClintock is a solid fiscal conservative. The left-leaning legislature will reject whatever he proposes.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has proposed huge tax hikes that, if enacted, would be poison for the California job market.

If Davis beats the recall, only his husk will be left anyway.

I asked Schwarzenegger about the move by his close adviser, former Gov. Pete Wilson, to raise taxes and cut spending when, as a newly elected governor, he was confronted with a then-record $14 billion budget shortfall. Schwarzenegger noted that Wilson was "fiscally responsible" and that Wilson's package brought the state from red ink to a huge surplus. But then -- sigh -- he speculated that Wilson might have managed the same without raising taxes. Quel disappointment.

I don't want to pay higher taxes, but I want a governor who, if the economy drags, will know when there's no other choice but to raise taxes -- and pledge to reduce them when the economy improves. I want a governor, who like Wilson, isn't afraid to anger people.

I think Arnold Schwarzenegger could be that leader. I haven't quite seen that side of him, but I think it's there. So I'm waiting.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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