Robert Novak

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The California Chamber of Commerce's annual advocacy conference here last week discussed a possible tradeoff: weakening the state's rigid term limits in exchange for legislative redistricting that would benefit Republicans. For that arrangement to be born, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger must be the midwife. But he does not seem prepared to play the role.

The Republican Party's condition in the nation's most populous state is desperate, with Schwarzenegger its only visible asset. Yet, a redistricting helping the GOP immeasurably is considered outside the frame of reference for the Republican governor, who remembers the issue as one of the ballot propositions he lost in the disastrous election of 2005. His current national priority is preaching the menace of global warming nationwide, and his state mission is practicing the "post-partisanship" of governing across party lines.

Is Schwarzenegger really a Republican? Less so than the young immigrant who rose from body builder to movie star. Less so than the unexpected candidate who replaced Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in the 2003 recall election. Less so than the compelling orator who addressed the 2004 Republican National Convention. Less so than he probably would be now if he had been born in Alabama instead of Austria and could run for the GOP presidential nomination next year. While he is embraced by business interests as incomparably better than Davis or any Democrat, he is a crushing disappointment to hard-pressed Republican activists.

The Time magazine cover twinning Schwarzenegger with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg conveys a false impression. Schwarzenegger's Republican roots run deeper than those of Bloomberg, who took the party label seven years ago so he could become mayor and shed it last week -- or for that matter of Colin Powell, who joined the GOP 12 years ago and sounds as though he might leave it now.

People who knew Schwarzenegger in his body building days describe a fervent conservative, well read in free market economics. When I first met Schwarzenegger, he was a famous actor traveling with presidential nominee George H.W. Bush's entourage in 1988 -- an enthusiastic supporter serving as the warm-up speaker for the candidate's rallies.

Even now, he governs as a Republican as much as did the party's previous governor, Pete Wilson. Employers count on Schwarzenegger to restrain the Legislature's voracious, anti-business Democratic majority, particularly concerning workers compensation. He belatedly brought California into compliance on welfare reform.

Robert Novak

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

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