California's new odd couple not quite 'Twins'
LOS ANGELES — One is tall, muscular, tanned, and handsome. The other is squat, pale, balding, and bespectacled. One has strength, brains, and personality. The other is an undersized, genetic mutant with criminal tendencies.
This script premise of the 1988 movie, "Twins" - which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito - is already being trotted out, only half in jest, to draw parallels with the real-life plotline now unfolding at the California statehouse.
With the dramatic election win of the Republican Mr. Schwarzenegger and the loss of Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the dueling duo could now become the strangest political bedfellows in American history.
Mr. Bustamante becomes the first lieutenant governor in the US to have run against the same candidate he will now serve under. True, there have been cases in California and other states where a governor and lieutenant governor were from opposite parties. But the unique circumstances of being opponents in the recall - including Mr. Bustamante's rise from obscurity to a world spotlight - present possibilities for strange power shenanigans ahead.
"This could be as weird as if Al Gore became George Bush's vice president after the election of 2000," says Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. Noting that Bustamante once angered even his Democratic boss, Gray Davis, so much that Davis took away his parking space, professor Pitney says, "There are amusing aspects to the comparison, and serious ones as well."
Although the movie comparisons are meant to be comical and overdrawn - Bustamante himself started the look-alike comparisons to Mr. DeVito during the campaign - there are genuine concerns being generated by the thorny opposition of the state's two highest elected offices.
"This is totally different and of much higher magnitude than other situations in California and elsewhere where the two office holders are from different parties," says Larry Sabato, a professor of government at the University of Virginia.
After 75 days of intense campaigning, Mr. Bustamante received 31.6 percent of the final vote to Schwarzenegger's 48.6 percent.
But the campaign drew the attention of world press, including Spanish-language media that portrayed Bustamante as a great hope of becoming the first Latino governor in 100 years.
That intense exposure has won Bustamante name recognition, which translates into political power, says Mr. Sabato. "[Bustamante] conceded the election, but told everyone he was not going to lose his voice or go anywhere. He left the feeling that he would lead a government in exile within the capitol building itself."
Still, Bustamante failed to appeal to as many Latino - and white - voters as Democrats had hoped. That leaves open the question of how much clout he will ultimately wield.
Lieutenant governors in California have long been noted for having less power and fewer duties than US vice presidents. In this state, the separately elected (as opposed to governor-appointed) post automatically comes with a seat as regent in the University of California. The officeholder also heads various commissions and acts as a tie-breaker in any gridlocked vote in the state Senate.
The leverage to decide a tight vote would, on the face of it, seem to give Bustamante a degree of power.
"Unfortunately that eventuality happens about once in a generation, so [Bustamante] has a very big problem in that category," says Tony Quinn, a political analyst in Sacramento.
But seconds in command achieve some recognition because, by state law, they are first in line to succeed a sitting governor should he die. And the lieutenant governor becomes acting governor when the sitting governor leaves the state.
A situation of that sort made national headlines during the administration of former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. His Republican lieutenant governor, Mike Curb, once appointed a judge while Mr. Brown was out of the state, a move that had to be rescinded when Brown returned.
In Colorado Gov. Bill Owens - who did not get along with his own lieutenant governor - made headlines last year when he pushed through legislation that made the post an appointed office rather than an elected one.
Perhaps more important, the situation presents a challenge for Schwarzenegger, a political neophyte. He is in the spotlight as a Republican governor in a legislature with both houses dominated by Democrats - and he has said he will be reaching out to create a new era of bipartisan cooperation. In this climate, the Bustamante/Schwarzenegger relationship becomes highly symbolic.
"I'm not moving across the hall to the governor's office," Bustamante told election night crowds. "But I'm not going anywhere." Remembering the Mike Curb years, he also ribbed Schwarzenegger by urging him to continue his international movie career.
"Go where you like. Feel free to stay as long as you like," he said to roars of laughter. "I'll be keeping an eye on things here."