WASHINGTON -- If John McCain becomes president, he will be confronted by a Congress with significantly larger Democratic majorities than today's -- majorities furious about high hopes dashed by an eighth Republican victory in 11 presidential elections. And if the normal pattern of off-year elections obtains in 2010, those majorities will expand. So McCain would have to deal with a hostile legislature for four years, as Arnold Schwarzenegger has done for almost five years. For that reason, and because these two self-styled post-partisan, reach-across-the-aisle mavericks admire one another -- McCain has given Schwarzenegger a starring role Monday at the Republican convention -- it is pertinent to survey Schwarzenegger's governorship of one-eighth of America's population.
Becoming governor in 2003, when Gov. Gray Davis was recalled, Schwarzenegger promised frugality. But even adjusting for inflation and population growth, spending has increased 20 percent under Schwarzenegger. The $102 billion general fund budget is $15 billion in deficit. This year Sacramento will swallow 9.58 percent of personal income, up from 8.78 under Davis, who was recalled because ... does anyone remember?
In January, Schwarzenegger proclaimed: "I will not raise taxes on the people of California." Then he proposed raising the state's sales tax -- the nation's highest (7.25 percent statewide with local additions) -- a full penny on the dollar, unless (mostly low-income) Californians vastly increase the amount of money they squander on the state's poorly performing lottery, thereby enabling the state to borrow against projected future lottery earnings. Now Schwarzenegger favors a "temporary" sales tax increase.
Schwarzenegger began governing as a Republican, but public employees' unions easily defeated his four principled proposals -- reform of public employees' pensions, merit pay for teachers, automatic spending cuts when the budget is not balanced, and redistricting to be done by retired judges. So he made a Democratic operative his chief of staff and has governed accordingly.
He said he would support relaxing term limits on state legislators only if they promised to support transferring their redistricting power to nonpartisan retired judges. The legislators broke their promise, but he still favors relaxation.
When he ran for governor, desperate conservatives rallied 'round, reassured by reports that he had read Milton Friedman. But his governance has been, as populism usually is, both incoherent and predictable, a product of his gut and gusts of popular opinion.