George Will

     ``Borrowed money,'' he says dryly, ``may feel just like real money when it's sitting in our pockets, but we have to pay it back.'' However, that concerns tomorrow, and as an entertainment -- the musical ``Annie'' -- taught, tomorrow is always a day away. Schwarzenegger, a political rookie, has a precocious understanding of the Annie principle of governance: Voters lavish approval on leaders who arrange for future voters to pay for current consumption of government services.

     He has wrung some money -- not as much as he sought or as his budget assumes -- from Indian casinos. He has begun reforming California's job-destroying workers' compensation system. But his first budget is a pastiche of optimistic assumptions, creative accounting and largely cosmetic ``sacrifices'' purchased from interest groups by promising them expensive recompense, soon. The bills will come due in 2006, when Schwarzenegger will be seeking re-election.

     Meanwhile, he husbands his popularity so he can govern as no previous governor has -- by using his celebrity to cow the Legislature with threats to enact policies through initiatives. This practice offends the spirit of the national Constitution's guarantee that every state shall have a republican form of government. The essence of that form is representation, by which the people do not make laws, they decide who will make them -- legislators. Not surprisingly, Schwarzenegger has said that California should have a part-time legislature because it ``already doesn't have enough to do.'' 

     Swiftly, the great question of California politics has been inverted. Nine months ago it was: Can celebrity -- celebrity far greater than Ronald Reagan's in his pre-presidential years -- in the service of a sharp but unseasoned political intelligence govern this vast, troubled state? Now the question is: Can California be effectively governed only by the threat of plebiscitary actions? That is, can it be governed only by a megacelebrity who can move multitudes to sign petitions to get propositions on the ballot, and who can attract millions of dollars to pass them?

     A century ago, California populists' rationale for ballot initiatives was that, being initiated by ordinary citizens, they would empower the many, who are weak. Today Schwarzenegger uses the threat of initiatives to magnify the power of most powerful person in the state, the governor.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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