Who says Arnold S’s strategy of not talking to reporters and not announcing policy positions isn’t paying off? Why, he’s already won the support of Rob Lowe and M.C. Hammer. In fact, his chief financial adviser, Warren Buffett, made all kinds of headlines last week when he argued to the Wall Street Journal that the property-tax-limiting Proposition 13 should be revisited and rejiggered. The prospect of another exodus of rich Californians had a salutary effect on tax officials in surrounding states, struggling to balance their own budgets, who could be heard chanting, “Go Arnold go!”
Republicans hopefully point to Governor Gray Davis’s low poll numbers and the loss of control that has descended on the old pol, like a tornado taking Dorothy’s house for a spin. According to this interpretation, the gov is being tossed about by events and wailing against the wind to no discernible effect. The more he tries to be relevant, the more incompetent he looks, the more comfortable voters get with booting him. Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub, whose coverage of the recall effort has been unrivaled, now thinks it “possible” that Davis will resign to avoid a 70 to 30 drubbing come October 7.
Anything’s possible but I doubt it and, to be fair, so does Weintraub: We’ve now reached the dreaded Bengal Tiger phase of the election. The Democrat dominated legislature convened in Sacramento on Monday with one and only one goal in mind: Keep our party in power. For the next four weeks, they will try to do this through a combination of payoffs to liberal constituencies, feel good legislation, and bills aimed at splitting the Republicans down the middle. And it’s likely to work.
In addition to defending the absurdly lavish pensions system that Davis signed into law in 1999 — where some state workers get to retire on 90 percent of their previous pay — Gray and company have a whole bag of treats to hand out. Start with drivers licenses, with de facto voting rights, for illegal immigrants. Add in a gay partners bill that is almost Vermontean in scope. Just for kicks, toss in kid gloves treatment of Indian casinos and a possible bill that could give tribes the ability to hobble developments within five miles of anything defined as traditional burial grounds. Democrats in the legislature are playing with the idea of cutting the car tax back to its previous level, and paying for it by raising taxes on the rich and smokers (e.g., the poor). As a tax swap, this would get around the two-thirds supermajority requirement for tax hikes, and rob members of the opposition of the ability to vote the bill down.
Taxes, immigration, gay rights, special treatment for the tribes and public sector unions: These are issues that Republicans should own, but the dynamics of the race will make that very difficult. Schwarzenegger has already endorsed gay rights. Is he now going to oppose the partnership bill because it’s too costly? His advisers are sending mixed messages on taxes, for good reason: Mismanagement of the energy crisis left the state struggling under a $30 plus billion deficit, and nobody — except maybe Tom McClintock — has any idea how to escape this fiscal trap. Illegal immigration could be a winning issue but it’s one that scares the hell out of Republicans.
Also, there are four serious elephants in the race and none of them is going to make headlines by agreeing with the others. The electoral din will more than validate snobbish criticism that this contest is, yes, a three-ring circus, with lions and marching band.
Even if voters do narrowly vote to bounce Davis, the anti-recall sentiment should be enough to install Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante behind the governor’s desk. Though it was roundly mocked at the outset, the “No on recall, yes on Bustamante” slogan was pretty shrewd. In a divided field, Bustamante only needs a plurality to win. By turning himself into the anti-recall candidate, as well as the sole standard bearer for his party — should Davis flounder, of course — the unimpressive pol has changed the calculus of the whole race. The fact that Bustamante is quite a ways to the left of Davis should cause some conservative voters to change their mind about recall altogether. Given Bustamante’s past as a Chicano activist, and Davis’s usual demeanor, I suppose we should chalk up another victory for the brown shirt-stuffed shirt coalition.