Governor - Action Hero - Mr. Nice Guy

Posted: Nov 18, 2003 12:00 AM

SACRAMENTO -- "I am HUMBLED" began the copy for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's swearing-in speech Monday. "I am HONORED beyond WORDS to be your governor." Even in humility, California's new governor is all capital letters. He's not a lower-case kind of guy.

In his opening act, he pledged to restore California's place as the world's "golden dream." Staffers leaned out of open third-floor windows in the old Capitol building to watch as Hollywood glitterati mingled with polyester pols. Wife Maria Shriver read from poetry attributed to Maya Angelou that celebrated "the miracle of just being together" -- an allusion to the bipartisan nature of the gathering.

How different, I thought, from the last inauguration I attended -- in January, for the newly re-elected Gray Davis. Never had a victory ceremony appeared more like a wake. Democrats won every statewide office, yet they were morose, indulging in finger pointing rather than celebration.

Having just won an ugly election, the Davis crowd nonetheless didn't want to appear too happy. So Team Davis threw a subdued inaugural party -- charging a humble $15 a head -- and then invited the public to attend.

Team Arnold is doing similar things, but for opposite reasons. There are no galas because Schwarzenegger didn't want a huge celebration that showcased his popular appeal, Hollywood muscle and ability to draw breathless international media. They're trying to downplay the victory.

In his inaugural address, Davis blamed President Bush for the nation's economic woes. He wanted other people to fix California's situation.

Minutes after his inaugural speech, Schwarzenegger signed an executive order to repeal a 300 percent increase in the vehicle license fee enabled under Davis. The new governor also called for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the fiscal crisis, fix a broken workers' compensation system and revoke SB60, the bill signed by Davis that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses.

To win, the governor will need to persuade (or pressure) lawmakers to rescind a measure they passed overwhelmingly scant months ago.

Explaining why she plans to change from a "yes" vote to a "no" vote, Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, said, "Sometimes we are asked to lead; sometimes we are asked to represent."

Meaning: If she doesn't change, she may not get to represent.

Recalling the car tax, rescinding SB60, cutting workers' compensation costs and working with folks from the other party are all popular with voters.

It's the easy stuff. All Mr. Nice Guy.

But soon, Schwarzenegger is going to have to do things people don't like. He'll have to find a way to pay for the $4 billion in revenues lost from canceling the car-tax hike, which will raise this year's shortfall to $14 billion. He'll have to issue an executive order cutting programs. Or he'll have to squeeze local governments, which he said he wouldn't do. Or cut school funding, which he said he wouldn't do.

Team Arnold is floating a proposal to ask voters to approve a $20 billion bond to cover debt he inherited. If that's all the heavy lifting he does, the governator will be no different than Davis and the state pols who kept racking up debt because they couldn't cut spending. The past three pitiful budgets were a monument to Sacramento's fear of doing anything unpopular.

"I have never been afraid of HARD WORK," Schwarzenegger told the thousands of well-wishers. But he didn't say if he was afraid of angering the public. If he is, he should watch footage of the last inauguration -- and take a long look at the anxious face of a man who was elected to lead but didn't.

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