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George Passantino

George Passantino is Director of Government Affairs for the Reason Foundation and coauthor of "Roadmap to Reform."

Remembering Arnold’s Mandate
Change the fundamentals...
[George Passantino] 1/29/04

As the post-inauguration battleground grows fierce, it’s worth remembering that Governor Schwarzenegger received a surprisingly strong mandate in November. When California’s legislators refuse to cooperate, Schwarzenegger will find support at the source of that mandate—the public.

As Matt Fong, California’s former elected state treasurer and current member of the Schwarzenegger transition team recently wrote in a Los Angeles Daily News opinion piece, “The recall isn’t a circus. It is part of a pattern—taxpayers are demanding transparency and accountability from corporate America and their government.” Now California is waiting to see how this call for accountability and transparency will manifest itself in the new Schwarzenegger administration and his efforts to “give California back its future.”

Chief among the challenges the new executive will face is a current-year budget that is hemorrhaging red ink (See “Arnold Targets the Budget Crisis”). Former State Controller Kathleen Connell referred to the recently passed budget as a “Band-Aid on a broken leg.” Others have roundly criticized the legislature and Governor Davis for willingly putting off the dif- ficult decisions year after year—behavior that has only made the current crisis worse. When all is said and done, Schwarzenegger may face a current year deficit as high as $20 billion, along with a projected $8 billion shortfall in next year’s budget.

Recall opponents warned that a new governor could be elected with as little as 15 percent of the vote, yet Schwarzenegger received nearly 49 percent of the vote in the crowded race and beat his closest pursuer by roughly 17 percent. Based on the latest figures from the California Secretary of State, it appears that more voters have cast their ballots for Schwarzenegger than to retain Governor Davis (approximately 4.20 million vs. 4.00 million). Also, Schwarzenegger received more votes than Governor Davis did in the 2002 general election (3.53 million)—something astonishing since turnout is typically lower for special elections.

Voters galvanized around fiscal concerns and gave the governor-elect a more straightforward show of support than many expected. But what about California’s political class? How will it react?

Two days after the historic election, I participated in a panel discussion comprised of a politically diverse group of highly respected government officials, legal experts and academics to discuss the challenges the new administration will confront. With both Republicans and Democrats in the room, I anticipated a vocal joust over the propriety of the election and what it really meant. Only the joust never materialized.

Instead, there seemed a general consensus that Schwarzenegger had a clear mandate to fundamentally reform the way government operates. There was also a shared view that Schwarzenegger’s rapport with the public is something that he can and will use if the legislature resists his reform agenda. Even panelist Scott Rafferty, a vocal opponent of the recall and a lead attorney in lawsuits against the election, expressed his desire that this historic opportunity be seized upon to consolidate state departments, restructure duplicate government programs, and reduce the number of state personnel. This is a shocking departure from the divisiveness of the recall and the sense that it would carry on beyond October 7th. California indeed faces monumental challenges. But if anything can offer hope in the wake of the election, it is this apparent shift in public attitudes as well as an emerging sense that Schwarzenegger is well-positioned to leverage these forces to create a new political will among lawmakers.

Even in times of political turbulence, both Schwarzenegger and the legislature remain mindful of the governor’s strong public support—and this may be the force that finally reforms California’s lingering problems.

This editorial originally appeared in Reason Foundation's Privatization Watch

copyright 2004 Reason Foundation


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