Tuesday, August 03, 2004

California Dreaming

The Warrior Princess, on assignment in California, files this report on the current political temper of her home state:

I had an uneventful flight home. The Syrian band held their water and I had some engaging reading material to keep me company. I would have finished the whole thing in one sitting had I not decided to spend our descent into Sacramento staring out the window and reflecting on how much has changed since I moved to Minnesota two years ago.

Gone from my childhood room is the vintage Dukes of Hazzard poster, and the life size cardboard cutout of Han Solo. My classic '80's motif has been replaced by a d├ęcor that looks like the cover of Home and Garden Magazine. My dog died, and the last of my brothers moved out of the house which meant my parents went buck wild and started replacing all the carpet and furniture. And somehow in all of this they forgot how to go to the grocery store because the only thing left in the fridge is pepperoncinis, tomatoes, and moldy lasagna.

But those are changes that can be chalked up to time, newfound disposable income, the desire for a guestroom, etc. The most astonishing change to happen in California (or should I say Kah-le-ForneeA) since I left can only be chalked up to one thing: Phenomena.

Let me give you an example. Two years ago, right about this time, I was working for Assemblyman John Campbell, the Vice Chair of the Budget Committee, and otherwise known to Hugh Hewitt listeners as "the Smartest Man in Sacramento." The state had been on hold for over a month without a budget, and not even the shameless mountain of pork Democrats were offering could buy the 5 Republican votes necessary to get their disastrous plan through. Meetings with union members, people who wanted money for their programs, and phone calls about general budget complaints usually came my way. A usual phone call went something like this:

Caller: "gripe gripe gripe, stop stalling the budget, gripe gripe, you're trying to kill the elderly, gripe sneer gripe, pass the budget or I won't re-elect you."

Ignoring for a moment that the area code showed the person was calling from San Francisco (definitely not our district), I would usually follow up with a question:

"Ma'am/Sir, do you know why we are not voting for this budget?"

Most stopped for a moment and answered "no". I would then explain about the expansive tax increases in the Democratic plan, the fact it was borrowing 25 years into the future to pay for a single year's budget, and the structural deficit not addressed in the budget meaning the state would have at least a 26 billion dollar deficit to face the following year. I moved to Minnesota before the state budget passed in early September.

What a difference, two years, a recall, and an Austrian body builder have made. Last week Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the California budget, and though it isn't ideal (spending as a whole still increased over last year), it is a whole heaping lot better than any budget to come out of the California legislature in the last 5 years. The budget contains no tax increases, it funds local government, and it takes a bite out of the deficit. Not to mention it was passed with Democrats still holding large majorities in the Assembly and the Senate! I am truly astonished.

Schwarzenegger has the appeal of the California electorate like no politician I have ever seen. The reason he was able to get that budget through is that he took his plan to the streets. When the Democrats started getting snippy, Arnold made his appeal directly to the constituents of every contested district in the state. The Democrats ran to the table because there is nothing they fear more than Arnold showing up to oppose them. He has the pulse of the state. He speaks and voters listen and respond.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was recently quoted as saying the Democrats can't take CA for granted in November. I laughed when I first heard it, but now I know why. Democrats know if Arnold gets serious about re-electing Bush, a new crop of voting Californians may get serious too. I'm a pessimist, so CA going from blue to red seems as far-fetched to me as Air America going from red to black. But who knows, maybe another week of sunshine, good friends, and growing the CA economy will have me believing in the Guvenator's powers of persuasion too.

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