Dear Big Daddy,
I’m shocked, shocked that the governor would reject hundreds of bills in order to get his water plan through the Legislature. How about you?
–Aghast in Artesia
I’m shocked, too. Not because he’s trying it, but because he thinks he’ll pull it off.
Political extortion, properly applied, is a wonderful thing, a beautiful thing, and a boon for democracy. It oils the wheels of compromise, keeps lawmakers focused, gives reporters something to write about so they won’t see what’s really happening and sometimes results in good legislation. Sometimes.
But to twist arms, you’ve got to be a political pro. As a house leader, I did it, Willie did it, Leo did it, Pat did it, Jim did it. As governor, Pat did it, Ronnie did it, Jerry did it, Pete really did it. In fact, the little Marine liked it.
Everybody loves a good spanking – this is a loose translation from my favorite Joe Stalin quote – and the Assembly was never happier than when I locked the doors and sat on my colleagues until they produced a budget. Ah, the good ‘old days. Arms were twisted, necks were wrung.
But I knew what I was doing. And I served in the Aleutians during the war and I commuted to work for years with Dick Bergholz, so I knew fear.
Now, Arnold may look powerful and lantern-jawed on film, but his political reality is different. He waffles and wiggles. The Terminator is the Squirminator. His strongest moment as a power player was earlier this year when he – finally – hooked up with his own party and held tight on the budget. But he hasn’t done that since then. But now's the time. Seize the day, as Saul Bellow advised.
But to throw out hundreds of bills – even if most of them deserve to be squashed and even if most are authored by Democrats – and still retain the image of a smart, reasoned leader working on the public’s behalf isn’t easy. He’ll look like a legacy builder and desperate. One thing for certain: The era of post-partisanship – if it ever really existed – is long since dead.
A good politician plays to his strength, not weakness. So here’s what the governor should do: Take the legislative leaders, key lawmakers and staffers and anyone else he wants along, and go down to his home in L.A., and party hard and work harder for three days straight. The governor can have a few Hollywood friends stop by and impress the politicos. They can drink. They can arm wrestle. They can cut deals. They can have fun and get to know each other. And long after the hangovers are history, the public benefit will be served.
Worked for me.