Outgoing California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the occasion of his final address to the Sacramento Press Club to jest about being the “second most famous immigrant in the history of California.” Meg Whitman’s maid, he joked, is first in line for this honor.
Self-deprecating humor may entertain the Sacramento elite but the governor’s record is no laughing matter. Today he leaves us with a $6 billion deficit that balloons to nearly $20 billion next year, and even the authenticity of these figures is dubious due to massive accounting gimmicks in Sacramento. Our credit rating is lower than that of a banana republic. The state budget is a bloated, red-ink-bleeding mess. Wealthy earners and young talent exit in droves, forced by an actual unemployment rate of 22%. Forty million dollars per day is being borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits as the state suffers from some of the worst economic conditions in the nation.
The scent of monumental decline is in the air, and the Schwarzenegger government has played a heavy hand in the mess.
Arnold assumed office riding high on rhetoric of cutting taxes, rescinding recalled Democratic Governor Gray Davis’s car registration tax hike, and returning the Golden State to its previous luster.
I think back to this time in the state’s political history as exciting. The mood of California was sour toward leadership and folks were ready for a change. Even liberal strongholds were disgusted with Sacramento and Davis. Above it all, here was a guy who emigrated from Austria (his accent to this day negates the need of a birth certificate as proof) in search of the American dream. He was getting a chance at the reins of the Golden State. Conan was poised to drive his liberal enemies before him, to the benefit of fed-up Californians.
He listed Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan as framers of his worldview. I recall William O’Neil of Investor’s Business Daily fame describing him as “tough under pressure” and “just what California needed.” I was in my mid-20s and operating a business here, and this endorsement from IBD’s founder certainly made me more enthusiastic. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association along with statewide tax groups also emphatically endorsed him before the election.
Starting out, he lived up to most of his promises to fiscal conservatives and libertarians. He slashed $150 million from the state budget, cut the onerous Davis “car tax” hike, took on the DMV, promised to go Terminator and “blow up the boxes” of Sacramento bureaucracy, and even instigated a political street fight with the powerful state unions. The latter surprised even me and I cheered it on. He seemed open to Cato Institute suggestions for the state economy and was even rated one of the few “A” governors by Cato in 2004. The Governator even welcomed the Reason Foundation’s suggestions for the state. It was almost like we had a leaner, buffed-out Chris Christie figure in our midst.
In 2005, Schwarzenegger went for broke, calling for a special election to introduce several propositions covering such sacred leftist cows as limiting teacher tenure (Proposition 74), reforming union interests in state elections (75), limiting state spending (76), and curbing the state’s corrupt Democratic gerrymandered district lines (77).
Every single one of the key Schwarzenegger propositions went down in the flames — leaving both the smoldering ruins of needed reforms and an express delivery shellacking to the governor’s seemingly bountiful ego.
One can gather that the unanimous special election rebuke must have taken a toll on a man accustomed to fame and popularity. He changed. Instead of reevaluating his approach to reform California into a governable, business-friendly state, he found the “never seen a statist-environmentalist cause I didn’t like” Arnold within. Instead of championing difficult yet necessary changes worth fighting for, he fell back on “solutions” to the global warming issue and right into the loving arms of the radical environmental lobby. He even turned international socialist heads in Copenhagen by calling for an Orwellian-sounding “planetary transformation.” The Nobel-winning Austrian economist that Schwarzenegger claimed to admire must have been turning over in his grave.
Adding insult to injury, a toothy Austrian grin awaited Assembly Bill 32, a draconian Sacramento cap and trade scheme. He signed AB-32 in 2006 and even later pushed for a California version of ObamaCare.
In essence, he morphed from the Austrian Ghost of Reagan into a dime-a-dozen salesman and Sacramento-appeasing power player. To fully grasp this transformation, consider that those on the far left in Sacramento make congressional liberals like Barney Frank seem almost moderate in comparison.
One man has the right to toast to a case of schadenfreude. California Congressman Tom McClintock, running against Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall, warned voters before the election that Arnold was a liberal wolf in conservative sheep’s clothing. McClintock predicted that a Governor Schwarzenegger would be far and away from the second coming of Governor Ronald Reagan. (Refer to a recent McClintock interview at PJTV for more on this.)
McClintock’s prophecy proved to be more true than even he most likely thought possible. To the shock and dismay of sensible government advocates around the state, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leftist metamorphosis paved the way for California’s incredible decline. Like a script from the several horrible Terminator sequels, Governor Schwarzenegger started strong only to end up on DVD shortly thereafter.
In this spirit I bid the first and last action hero governor of California a solemn farewell and hope the blown-up, bankrupt, apocalyptic-flop movie set of a state that he leaves behind will only serve as an example to the nation and a warning against big-government Republicanism for years to come.
On a much-needed lighter note — Conan the Barbarian: The Musical: