Debra J. Saunders

Was the recall worth it? California government is still spending more than it takes in.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to blow up the "boxes" of state government, but he didn't.

Democratic legislative leaders are enjoying lavish lifestyles when they should be rolling up their sleeves. And the state GOP, which pushed for the ouster of Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, is as beside the point as ever.

Was it worth it putting $1.6 million into the recall campaign? I asked Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who largely bankrolled the effort that moved the recall from a threat to a reality.

"Yes, of course," Issa answered.

"Would I have like to have spent less? Absolutely. I'm a fiscal conservative." And: "I spent $8 million coming up second in a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. If you have to put it in perspective, wouldn't you say this is better?"

Overall, Issa noted, while the state is still spending too much, "Republicans are not happy, Democrats are not happy, but the people of California are happy." Gray Davis, who seems more popular and relaxed since California voters recalled him four years ago, told me he would leave the answer to my question for voters and pundits to decide. Although he quipped, "My wife says if she had known life would be this good, she'd have voted for the recall."

Far from being angry, Davis gives much credit to the man who unseated him. Gov. Schwarzenegger, Davis said, "is a great salesman. That's a huge part of politics today." Davis noted that while he signed a global-warming bill, Schwarzenegger's support for a later measure "has given far more currency to the issue than I ever could."

Which is why many global warming skeptics in the GOP are unhappy with Schwarzenegger -- even if, as spokesman Adam Mendelsohn noted, Schwarzenegger uses a "market-oriented" approach, instead of regulation, to address global warming. And Schwarzenegger has garnered the highest veto rate of any governor in the last 40 years.

As for legal corruption, it is alive and well in Sacramento. Special interests plough money into the California Recovery Team, which flies Schwarzenegger to tony towns, when he's not paying for his private plane out of pocket.

Now, it seems, Democratic leaders have come down with a serious case of Arnold Envy. The Los Angeles Times reported on the $5.3 million "Friends of Fabian Nunez" fund that has picked up the tab for the Assembly speaker's fact-finding missions to South America, Barcelona and Bordeaux. As the East Bay Express reported, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata also spent campaign funds lavishly, if locally "living large."

Debra J. Saunders

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