“After all, it was the right thing to do, and in the end, wouldn’t that prevail?”
By Duf Sundheim
The famous profile was only illuminated from the lights of LA far below. We were flying back to Santa Monica after a long, successful trip. For someone known around the world by his first name, Arnold rarely talked about his inner feelings. But it was late, the pace that day had been hectic and his guard was down. “I used to think what was most important was how much money you had and how many people knew who you were.” He hesitated, then added “Now I believe it is how much you give to others.” I remember thinking to myself, “For the good of our state and our politics, I sure hope he succeeds.”
That was not the only time I felt that way. I would be in meetings where he wanted to pursue a policy that clearly was in the best interest of the people but would go up against some powerful interests. His advisors, correctly, would tell him he would pay a huge price, politically and personally, for taking such action. But he would still want to move forward. After all, it was the right thing to do, and in the end, wouldn’t that prevail?
When I would go to events with him I would not watch him, I would watch the crowd. You could see a look of hope in their eyes; a willingness to commit to something bigger than themselves, for a greater good. My favorite memory was when we pulled up in a bus with a big picture of Arnold on the side to a Little League field during a game. When the pitcher saw the bus, even though he was in the middle of his wind up, he dropped the ball and he, the batter, their teammates, the parents and coaches all went running to the bus.
Those days of course did not last. So the question often asked is, “Did he succeed?” It is a fair question. But I ask a different one: “Did he make a lasting contribution to our state?” And to that my answer is yes, absolutely.
Some of his alleged failures really were more a reflection of his tactics, not substance. From the Governor’s perspective it was pretty simple: “Are you more likely to lift 300 pounds if you set a goal of 400 pounds or 200 pounds? So why not set the goal at 400?” Many times he got blamed for not lifting 400 pounds rather than getting credit for lifting 300.
Others were just failures. One of the most disappointing days was when I was sitting in a car in Palm Springs on a conference call when it was decided he was not going to aggressively move to “blow up the boxes”. It was at the height of his popularity and I knew if we were not going to do it then, it would not be done.
However, there were achievements that have the potential to be as important to our future as the adoption of the voter initiative in 2011: the open primary, redistricting and workers’ comp reform.
In the 1960s you could buy one of three cars, watch one of three networks, call someone over landlines owned by one company. These entities desperately tried to hold on to their privileged positions, which had a negative impact on our country until we broke free from such chains. We are now reaping the benefits of an explosion in technology and choices. Those entities that have adapted to this new playing field have thrived; those that did not are gone.
Politically, we are where we were economically 50 years ago. The two parties are desperately trying to hold on to power. We only need to look at Washington today to see the devastating effect such an outmoded system is having on our country. With the open primary, a party no longer automatically has the right to be in the finals. Like the automaker or smart phone supplier, they have to compete to succeed. Those parties and candidates that adapt not only will survive, they will thrive. Those that do not will end up on the dustbin of history.
In terms of redistricting, I always thought it curious politicians got to choose their voters instead of the voters getting to choose their politicians. Redistricting reform is a major move towards real democracy.
Workers comp reform is less obvious but equally important. A fundamental question in our society is what is the role of the worker and what responsibility do we have to ensure they are dealt with fairly? The Governor’s workers’ comp reform is a model of how you protect the rights of the worker while ensuring she still has a job to go to.
However, Arnold’s greatest achievement was the recall itself. Great achievements either are substantive, change the way we think or change the way we feel. The recall was the trifecta – it changed all three. It was substantive because it changed our government. It changed the way we think because it showed for the first time in our history, a recall could be successful. It changed the way we felt because it gave us hope.
The fact the recall succeeded does not matter much right now. However, in the future, when the people lose faith in their government, they will remember what Arnold did and it will give them hope that they can change their future in a way people thought was impossible before 2003. By any standard, that is a meaningful and lasting achievement.
Ed’s Note: Duf Sundheim is the former chairman of the California Republican Party.