Smiling in defeat, guv’s reform hopes crash and burn

On Tuesday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have remade California’s
political landscape–in the exact opposite way of what he intended.

While many of his opponents said they wanted to forget that the special
election ever happened, delighted union members woke up Wednesday morning
feeling more powerful than they had before Election Day.

Over in the Legislature, the Senate leader offered an olive branch while the
Assembly speaker was primed for combat. And as Perata and Nunez begin
jockeying for position, Schwarzenegger appears to be grabbing on to the
branch Perata has offered.

The governor referenced Perata in his concession speech Tuesday night, and
in a press conference Wednesday, Schwarzenegger communications director Rob
Stutzman mentioned Perata repeatedly.

“Senator Perata has certainly indicated that he’s willing to find common
ground and solutions to move the state forward,” Stutzman said, while not
mentioning the Speaker’s name.

For Perata, working with the governor is opportunity to reemerge as the
dominant legislative force in the post-election Sacramento. For
Schwarzenegger, it’s a chance to drive a wedge between the two Democratic
legislative leaders.

Earlier this week, Perata made leadership changes, likely consolidating his
power. And he has focused of a massive infrastructure bond, one that the
governor has also voiced some support for.

Perata was self-deprecating Wednesday, saying Tuesday’s results were not a
mandate for the Legislature: “We [the Legislature] watched the governor’s
popularity fall, but we were already there. No one should be talking about
strength or weakness. The only people who should be taking victory lap are
the teachers and firefighters and others who have been unfairly maligned.”
While those teachers and firefighters were talking about political reforms
to California government, Perata focused on bread-and-butter issues like
hiring more teachers and improving transportation. He has gotten behind SB
1024, a $10.3 billion infrastructure bond with money for levees, ports,
transportation and paying off debts.

By contrast, Fabian Nunez appeared less interested in making peace
Wednesday. After starting by saying he wasn’t raised to “kick somebody when
they’re down,” Nunez proceeded to prod the weakened governor. He backed away
from earlier statements saying he might be willing to grant the governor
more mid-year budget-cutting authority and added that he hoped
Schwarzenegger had “learned his lesson.”

“It would seem to me that it would be a smart thing for the governor to
extend some kind of apology,” Nunez said, parroting the line taken by union
leaders Wednesday.

Nunez’s more combative style has served him well, particularly in the tense
political environment created by the special election. Now, heading into the
2006 election season, Nunez will serve as co-chairman of Phil Angelides’
gubernatorial campaign. Angelides has staked out his political ground by
offering a constant, harsh critique of Schwarzenegger from the left. Perata,
meanwhile, has not endorsed a candidate for governor.

The governor got plenty more critique from the left on Wednesday. At a
post-election victory dance, members of the Democrats’ Alliance for a Better
California said they wanted to bask in their triumph and avoid
forward-looking policy proposals. But then members went on to outline
numerous ambitious ideas, including universal healthcare, improving that
state’s nurse-to-patient ratio and reforming the state’s prison system.
“Is this a mandate?” asked Lou Paulson, president of the CA Professional
Firefighters. “For sure, from our perspective.”

“One of the unintended consequences that this governor didn’t anticipate is
the bringing together people who hadn’t worked together before,” said
Barbara Kerr, the president of the California Teachers’ Association.

When asked if she would use the political capital gained in the election to
regain the $3 billion in education funding promised Schwarzenegger promised
but has not delivered on, Kerr said only, “That would be a good start.”
However, Republican consultant Mark Bogetich said that the Alliance didn’t
really represent anything new.

“I would argue that they [unions] have always been together,” Bogetich said.
“Anytime they feel threatened in terms of their control of Sacramento they
spend a lot of money. I don’t think anything revolutionary has happened.”
The volume of the unions’ opposition, and the extent to which Perata and
Nunez are willing to cooperate with Schwarzenegger, will be instrumental in
setting the tone for the coming political year.

Speaking in Los Angeles Tuesday night, Schwarzenegger echoed many of the
same themes as Perata, noting the importance of fixing California’s levees,
transportation and healthcare systems. Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger’s
spokesman, Rob Stutzman would not concede that the election was personal
rebuke from voters to the governor. He refused to apologize to union members
who felt they had been maligned, while leaving the door open to compromises
with legislative Democrats.

“The governor very much sees the results of last night’s election that
voters want the problems of the state to be addressed in Sacramento,”
Stutzman said. “It was clearly a mandate about how government should work.”
But Schwarzenegger must make some changes of his own. There have been no
shortage of rumors about staff reshuffling. The whispering has reached such
a fever pitch that Thompson took chief of staff Pat Clearly through the
press quarantine area at the Beverly Hilton Tuesday on what she called the
“Pat’s Not Quitting” tour.

“I admit it, I will be leaving–sometime between now and 2010,” Cleary said.
The governor will also likely try to transition back towards the cooperative
centrist he once was–with accompanying staff changes. While Mike Genest is
expected to stay at the helm of the Dept. of Finance, Stutzman has
reportedly talked about moving back to the private sector. Administration
sources say that Terry Taminen will stay with the administration, but not as
cabinet secretary.

Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman said the results of the special
election would not change the approach taken by legislative Republicans. He
said the budget–and heading off a likely Democratic tax hike–would be their
top priority.

“It is going to come down to where they want to cut,” Democrats said.
Meanwhile, liberal reform groups said they can smell the blood in the water.
Theis Finlev, policy advocate for California Common Cause, said his group is
looking to eliminate the loopholes that allow campaign committees to run a
“shell game,” moving money from one committee to another by creating a
uniform set of rules and deadlines for all committees. Committees connected
to both Nunez and Schwarzenegger have come under fire for this practice
during the special election.

With the Alliance and unions seemingly in the driver’s seat heading into
next year, there is already speculation about how Republicans will try to
drive a wedge between the component groups. But Bogetich said it won’t be a
matter of the Alliance splintering. Instead, he said, the Alliance will
overreach–and likely make life hard for Democratic candidates in the

Perata also warned that the Alliance’s ambitious agenda could provide the
seeds of an undoing similar to the governor’s.

“If they’re Democrats, it won’t take them long to not work together,” he

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