I don't know a single Democrat not on a political payroll who is enthusiastic about state Treasurer Phil Angelides' run for governor. In the Capitol, many Dems can't stand the guy. No one can argue with a straight face that Angelides has a serious plan to balance state finances.
If Schwarzenegger is the free-lunch governor -- he won't raise taxes and has failed to slice spending to eliminate the state's $4 billion to $5 billion structural budget shortfall -- Angelides offers free lunch followed by free desert. Angelides' recipe for state finances: no new taxes, unless you're rich, and a tax cut if you're middle class -- forget about the fact that the books don't balance as they are.
Sacramento has turned into Fantasy Island. The worst of it is, the less Schwarzenegger tries to do, the more voters like him. Now, Schwarzenegger is polling ahead of Angelides by 13 points, according to the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll of likely voters. But last year, after Schwarzenegger scheduled a special election and put four measures before the voters that he said would put the brakes on runaway spending and improve the political climate, he paid a price for the effort. The measures tanked. Voters turned against the man they chose to replace recalled Gov. Gray Davis. The governator's approval rating skidded to 38 percent. Bad box office.
Personally, I think that if Schwarzenegger had run a better campaign, one or more of his measures might have passed. But it is so much easier for Team Arnold to blame the voters. So his inner circle has emerged from the bitter 2005 losses with an absolute phobia about serious governing.
Challenge Team Arnold about the muscle man's failure to take on state spending this year and, off the record, aides will simply point to the California Legislature to explain how futile it is to try to get anything meaningful through a gantlet of extremists on the left and right.
The Democrats, who hold the overwhelming majority of legislative seats, are a gaggle of far-left loonies who concoct politically correct legislation -- for example, requiring that textbooks laud gay contributions to California history -- while failing to enact reforms needed to balance the budget. Rather than do their job to run state government, they want to butt into the business of how other people raise their kids.
Or they pass bills that they know will never become law -- just to make the Republican governor look bad. Consider the single-payer health-care bill that the Legislature passed overwhelmingly. If Capitol Dems actually were serious about universal health care, they would not pass a bill that would put Kaiser and other big health-care providers out of business. Even Angelides doesn't support it.
As for GOP lawmakers, they are a creepy collection of feckless throwbacks who are unable to check the Democrats' profligacy. They can't stop the spending spree, but they do manage to prevent any attempt to raise revenue to pay for new spending. Schwarzenegger has so little to do with GOP lawmakers, noted Democratic political consultant Andrew Acosta last week, that "he could bump into them in the hallway and not recognize them."
These are the geeks who sip punch in the dark corners around the dance floor as Schwarzenegger and the Dems make music together. Then again, Sacramento Republicans must figure that they don't have to kill bad bills when time will do the dirty work for them.
Consider the passage of Assembly Bill 32 -- which allows Sacramento to look as though the state will make sweeping reforms to curb global warming. The measure's passage made the front page of The New York Times because it offers an opportunity to make California look more committed to taking on greenhouse gas pollution than the Bush administration.
Don't kid yourself. This measure is fated to go the way of the California Air Resources Board vote in 1990. Remember: By 1998, 2 percent of all cars sold in the state would have to produce zero-emissions -- and the board looked even more serious by raising the bar to 10 percent by 2003. Newspapers lauded that bill as "historic" and the "toughest" in the nation, too, but you don't see a whole lot of electric cars on the road, do you?
Don't tell me that Democrats oppose faith-based initiatives -- not when they put the Kyoto global-warming pact and AB32 on their environmental altar.
I find myself questioning whether term limits have let state lawmakers off the hook. Term limits make it easy for Schwarzenegger to sign a bill that promises a 25 percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 -- he won't be in state office then.
Term limits also remove an incentive for Sacramento to pass a balanced budget. When the governor and lawmakers can kick the problem down the road for a few years -- and let those who are governing six or eight years from now clean up the mess they make today -- it becomes very easy to overspend.
Imagine how many hot fudge sundaes you would eat if you knew that someone else would be stuck wearing your calories.