Robert Novak

Democratic ranks have been decimated by the recall election. In addition to the forced retirement of Davis, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante has been marginalized by his miserable campaign. State Atty. Gen. William Lockyer, once considered the front-runner to succeed Davis in the 2008 election, may have committed political suicide among Democrats by admitting he voted for Schwarzenegger on Oct. 7. State Treasurer Phil Angelides is now the early Democratic favorite for governor in the next election, but he is hardly a compelling figure.

The state's most influential Democrat, appropriately enough, becomes the embodiment of 1960s-style radical liberalism: State Senate President John Burton. Facing forced retirement by term limits after more than 30 years as a happy but uncompromising warrior of the Left, Burton sought as a personal epitaph a state mandate to require employers to pay for their employees' health insurance. Gov. Davis, typically detached, signed the bill into law the night before the recall. The mandate is seen by many businessmen as typifying the political mindset that is driving them out of the state even as California's population rises.

Schwarzenegger is advised that there is no real chance to beat down Burton and his colleagues by repealing the employer mandate. But there are more vulnerable targets of opportunity: the increase in the hated car tax and authorization of driver's licenses for illegal aliens. The Democratic-controlled Assembly is ready to repeal them, and it is unlikely that Burton and the Senate will put up much of a fight.

That is only the beginning. Burton has privately told one prominent Republican that he resents Schwarzenegger interposing himself between the people and their legislators. But that is precisely what the governor can do and intends to do. Assuming that the Legislature will resist, he plans to go to the electorate in the March primary election with a spending cap and a bond issue. The fact that a world-famous celebrity is taking on the liberal establishment ensures the attention of California and the entire nation.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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