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Jon Fleischman

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An exclusive column from FlashReport contributor Dan Schnur.

November 9, 2005

Publisher's Introduction from Jon Fleischman: 
When I assembled my team of contributors for the FlashReport Weblog, I reached out to Dan Schnur for three reasons -- the first is that Dan is a straight-shooter with a great writing style.  He calls it like he sees it, and leaves you entranced with every word.  The second reasons is because Dan is a friend.  In this business of politics, you learn to respect people for their loyalty, and I would willingly jump into a foxhole with Dan, and fight off...whomever.  Finally, I reached out to Dan because I wanted a contributor to this website with whom I would not always agree.  My friend Garry South would find this last notion laughable, as he probably sees Dan and I as too far-right colleagues...  Well, this thought provoking column below is proof that there is diversity of opinion on the FlashReport.  Dan lays out his strategy for the Governor to be successful, and I really don't like his conclusion.  But, if I always agreed with Dan, he'd have reason to worry!  Anyways, here is an insightful piece from the FlashReport's Capitol Correspondent, Dan Schnur...

Read election analysis from the rest of the FR Blog crew here, and Jon Fleischman's take here.

Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for governor two years ago as a conservative -- on economic, public safety, and immigration issues.

But he ran at the same time as a moderate -- on environmental, social, and cultural matters.

This ideological balance between conservatism and moderation was the key to his election to office. Schwarzenegger called for a repeal of the car tax and drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. But he also stressed his support for coastal protection and abortion rights. Ultimately, he was the world’s strongest soccer mom.

That same centrist balance has characterized his first two years as governor. He’s fought hard against tax increases and held the line on illegal immigration issues. But he’s also supported domestic partnerships, pushed for expanded use of solar power and supported stem cell research.

The combination makes conservatives gnash their teeth. But it’s this hybrid approach (no pun intended) that allows him to successfully reach out to the swing voters who decide general election campaigns in California.

So Schwarzenegger was elected as a centrist. He’s governed as a centrist. But over the last several months, Californians have seen only the conservative Arnold. His initiative reform package emphasized exactly one half of his political persona -- it reinforced the conservative elements of his agenda without reminding voters of his more moderate aspects.

Don't get me wrong: each of his four measures represented the type of reforms that California needs to fix a broken system of politics and governance. But by highlighting only his rightward flank, Schwarzenegger made it much easier for his opponents to caricature him as an extremist.

With the benefit of hindsight, an initiative package that included measures that appealed to both the conservative and moderate sides of his wide-ranging constituency would have been much more consistent with the Arnold they voted for in the recall campaign. Paycheck protection, in other words, looks much less threatening if it’s paired with a reconstituted ban on off-shore oil drilling. And budget reform would have been balanced nicely by a companion initiative on early childhood education or health care. Could the unions have demonized a governor campaigning for kids and coastal clean-up? Perhaps, but it would have been a much, much harder sell.

This is not to say that Schwarzenegger needs to reinvent himself on issues where he is strongly conservative. Raising taxes or caving on drivers’ licenses won’t do him or the state any good – and neither is likely to happen. His opponents will try to spin the defeat of Prop 76 as evidence that the voters want higher taxes, but Schwarzenegger is adroit enough to steer clear of that briar patch. And for all the grief he’ll take on the drivers’ license debate, there’s little chance he’ll give any ground there as well.

Rather, he and his advisors need to work harder to highlight the environmental and cultural moderation that has effectively balanced his conservative leanings in the past.

A pro-choice green governor who won’t raise taxes or turn a blind eye to illegal immigration won’t ever make the Conservative Hall of Fame. But this balancing act can allow him to maintain the breadth of popular and political support he’ll need to govern successfully on the many issues where his party’s base does agree with him.

Last night, Schwarzenegger seemed to indicate that’s precisely where he was headed. His speech previewed a contrite and conciliatory approach that had been rarely seen until recently. He did not indicate any substantive reinvention of his policy goals, but rather an acknowledgment that cooperation on both sides of the aisle represented the best chance for real progress.

Will Arnold get as much from legislative negotiations as he would have from passing his initiative reform package? Of course not. But that’s no longer an option. Moving forward, it’s worth agreeing that some progress is better than none, and remembering that the political graveyards are full of candidates who allowed the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

You can write to Dan here.