A New Governor – And a Real Mandate

by Tony Quinn
Oct. 1, 2003
Among the more foolish horror stories of the recall campaign was the notion that somehow California would elect a crackpot governor with 15 percent of the vote. While this was theoretically possible, it was never a real prospect. Instead the exact opposite happened. Gov. Schwarzenegger won in landslide. He got nearly half the vote in a field of 135 candidates.

Remarkably, Schwarzenegger received more votes than voted against the recall, and more votes than Gov. Davis got in 2002. Davis received 47 percent of the vote in 2002; Schwarzenegger tallied 49 percent in 2003.

In other words, Schwarzenegger got a mandate to govern. This was a big surprise. Most observers thought the voters would throw Davis out of office, and most anticipated about a 55 to 44 percent split between yes and no on the recall. That’s about what happened. But when the campaign began, most public polls showed Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante with a slight lead over Schwarzenegger. Given the divided Republican field, some analysts thought Bustamante would win the governorship with about 40 percent of the vote.

But the Bustamante total was just 32 percent. This is the worst showing for any Democrat running for governor since 1930. And the two Republicans, Schwarzenegger and State Sen. Tom McClintock won more than 60 percent among them, an historic high for Republicans.

What does this mean? Interestingly, it probably does not mean that the people of California wanted a dramatic partisan change. If they had, McClintock would have done better than his 13 percent. But they wanted a change in direction, and they gave the new governor a very real mandate to accomplish just that.

It became apparent within days of the election that “Mr. Outsider” would quickly morph into “Mr. Insider.” Schwarzenegger ran as the populist with the broom to sweep out Sacramento, but his administration will be populated with experienced Sacramento inside players. This is not at all bad; for Schwarzenegger to succeed in achieving the reforms people want, he will need experienced people who know how to navigate the roily waters of the capitol.

So here’s an early agenda of things that need to be done. The budget mess won’t be solved just because of a change in administration. A recovered economy will ultimately bring more revenues into the treasury. In the meantime, rulings are likely to void the borrowing that was used to balance the current budget. That could give Gov. Schwarzenegger a $20 to $25 billion budget headache come January. Since major tax increases seem out of the question, he will probably have to go to the people with a plan to perhaps raise some minor revenues and to sell bonds to cover rest of the shortfall until the economy improves.

But this could give him a major bargaining chip with the legislature’s majority Democrats. It’s either cut the social programs you love or support my plan to get us out of Davis financial crisis.

So a budget solution should be tied together into a “grand deal.” that addresses a broad range of economic issues.

For instance, there is a wide spread consensus that California needs much more drastic workers’ compensation reform than the band-aide passed this year. A thorough reworking of the workers’ compensation system ought to be part of the megadeal.

The same is true for energy. We are facing another energy crisis in 2005 if more plants are not brought on line. Stable energy supplies and direct access by large energy users should be part of the deal. These are issues that affect the economy of California, and the only long-term solution to the fiscal crisis is economic growth.

Additionally, the new governor needs to focus the Legislature on structural reform. Surely a cap on state spending will be part of any long-term budget solution, but he should go farther.

Californians voted in a record numbers in the special election in October. That energy needs to be channeled into opening up the political system. A proposal to restore the open primary is now in circulation. The people want the choice an open primary affords them. This is a reform the governor should champion.

Schwarzenegger also touched on redistricting reform during the campaign. Proposals are in the legislative hopper to redo the dreadfully gerrymandered districts that preordain election results and restore the kind of competitive districts we had in the 1990s. This should be a major goal of the new administration, and one that over time will result in a legislature more reflective of the people’s will.

Schwarzenegger has an opportunity to serve not only the remainder of the Davis term, but another four years beyond that. Some of these reforms could take that long to achieve real results. But now is the time to get started on them.

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