Schwarzenegger as governor: terminator or healer?

In his early speeches, he has taken a bipartisan tone. He will take office next month.

It is perhaps surprising that Joseph Canciamilla and Donald Burns are looking to California's next governor with such a sense of hope. According to the recall rhetoric, the legislator and the lobbyist are just the sort of Sacramento insiders that Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger - the ultimate outsider - vowed to terminate.

Yet beyond the witty one-liners, the two men see the spark of something in Mr. Schwarzenegger's politics and persona that, they suggest, California has lacked for a long time: leadership.

They have seen glimpses in a victory speech that reached out to Democrats and in a transition team that includes people of all political stripes. And that desire to govern through consensus, should it continue, could be more significant than any proposal or policy.

After 20 years of gubernatorial technocrats forging only deeper divisions here, Schwarzenegger as the charismatic centrist now has a unique opportunity to begin to heal a fractured Capitol - and get things done.

"We've seen so little [leadership, that] it's a dim memory in California," says Bruce Cain, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley. "The biggest need in California is to create a common ground."

Unifier or conqueror?

At this early stage, it's impossible to discern whether Schwarzenegger will build on the bipartisan themes he has established after the election or use his resounding victory to slice through Sacramento as Conan the Governor. Both could qualify as "leadership." Yet only one will work here, says Mr. Canciamilla, a Democratic member of the state Assembly.

"If he works to develop a partnership, it will go much better than if he says, 'This is what I want you to do and you do it,'" says Canciamilla. "That has been tried before and it doesn't work."

Most recently, it has been tried by Gov. Gray Davis, who once said imperiously that the Legislature's job was to implement his will. Instead, the Legislature rebelled, making him little more than a spectator in this summer's budget negotiations. Likewise, former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura tried to govern despite the Legislature, and found himself pushed to the political margins despite a popular mandate similar to Schwarzenegger's.

If anything, the Byzantine checks and balances of the California political system make one-man rule even more difficult. Yet there are hints that Schwarzenegger could yet turn to leadership by fiat. He has said he would consider starting ballot initiatives if the Legislature didn't work with him to create a budget spending cap and repeal the recent bill that gave illegal immigrants' the right to get driver's licenses.

It's a potentially dangerous path. "Defining leadership as 'follow me' is very difficult in Sacramento because it's set up with a lot of veto points," says Professor Cain. "Creating consensus is the only way to survive, because you can't just [govern] through referendums."

Still, some have liked what they have seen so far. State Attorney Gen. Bill Lockyer - one of the top Democratic power brokers in the state - said this weekend that he opted for Schwarzenegger on Question 2 of the recall ballot, citing his hope that the political newcomer might deliver "principled leadership."

Canciamilla, for his part, notes the governor-elect's bipartisan appointments to his transition team. "He's certainly laying the groundwork for leadership as opposed to letting events wash over him," he says.

It's a significant vote of confidence. As a moderate who has stood out for his insistence that bipartisan compromise is necessary to fix the budget, Canciamilla would be a natural Schwarzenegger ally should he choose to govern from the center. Moreover, with ideological extremes dominating the Legislature, Schwarzenegger's success could hinge on persuading other legislators to think like Canciamilla.

At the very least, though, he will need to get both sides of the aisle on speaking terms again. In the 25 years since Californians passed their antitax manifesto, Proposition 13, conservative districts have increasingly been sending stronger antitax, antigovernment politicians to Sacramento. Meanwhile, the demographic shifts brought about largely by immigration have led to more liberal Democrats and more conservative Republicans - a trend only amplified by the most recent redistricting plan.

The result has been a government increasingly unable to find common ground. To some, Schwarzenegger, as a popular and moderate candidate, has the best opportunity in a generation to mend some of these cracks. "The nice thing about California differences is that they are based largely on economic and social-service issues" - not divisive cultural issues such as abortion, says Cain. "These can be solved."

Lights, camera, legislation

His celebrity will certainly give him an advantage.

"Celebrity can do all those little things that bring lawmakers into your orbit, like invitations to a party," says Darrell West, a political scientist at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "If Arnold Schwarzenegger returns your call, legislators will feel really good about that; legislators can be as impressed by celebrity as voters."

Indeed, Schwarzenegger's famously personable manner could be significant in a town that has been ruled by policy-minded governors with little flair since Gov. Jerry Brown left office in 1983. Speaking of a party Schwarzenegger attended in Sacramento earlier this month, which included prominent state Democrats such as San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and Senate leader John Burton, lobbyist Mr. Burns says, "In one evening, Arnold made more friends than Gray Davis did in all his years in government."

Senator Burton himself acknowledges that personal relationships can play an important part in leading a state. "I've got good friends that are friends of his, and they says he's a pretty good guy," Burton says. "That goes a long way with me."

Still, Burton adds, Schwarzenegger must lead by policy as well as personality: "If you have leadership but no policy, how are you going to lead?" Like many others, Burton says Schwarzenegger's proposals to fix next year's $8 billion budget deficit will go a long way toward determining his success. "Until [Schwarzenegger] comes up with his plan, I don't think there's much we can figure out," he says.

Canciamilla agrees. "If he tries to move forward with smoke and mirrors, people are going to say, 'Here we go again.' We're looking for a governor who will take some risks, and if he's got the guts to do that, I'll be there to do whatever I can."

What is surprising is how many people in Sacramento appear to earnestly hope Schwarzenegger can do it. To be sure, there are lawmakers and state officials angry about the recall, but many still see Schwarzenegger's election as a chance for a new beginning.

Even lobbyists for special interests, who received the brunt of the ex-bodybuilder's campaign bombast, have been energized, says Burns. He's been watching Sacramento for 47 years as a lobbyist, yet he finds himself at a loss to explain his colleagues' excitement.

"I was surprised by the note of optimism among a group that is notoriously cynical," says Burns. "If you could give us a motto, it would be: 'Yeah, right.'"

But the promises of the recall campaign have echoed here, as well. And for many, who felt that the previous administration played favorites, there's a new sense that strong leadership can make the process work the way it was intended.

"There are thousands of interests, and only three or four or five got the interest of the governor," Burns says. "Now, there's a feeling that it is going to open up."

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