It is fitting that in such an improbable state as California — the world’s sixth largest economy and its center of popular culture — such an improbable character as an Austrian, body-building movie star should serve as governor. Better yet, he’s doing a creditable job and should be re-elected.
It’s true: Arnold Schwarzenegger conducted only one debate with his challenger, Phil Angelides, and even then, the format didn’t meet the specifications of a classic debate. The televised exchange really amounted to a pseudo-event in which the governor got to show off his acting skills and the state treasurer displayed himself as a lackluster, if petulant, party functionary who has run out of ideas.
We sense that most voters share that reaction, so much so that their viewing pleasure was better served by fall sports and the networks’ new seasons. The larger debate, that which has taken place on the campaign trail and by a simple comparison of the candidates’ records, has been won. Governor Schwarzenegger won it.
A month before the election, the governor’s double-digit lead looks firm enough to secure a victory. Those leads have a way of closing in the final days, but Angelides’ chance of mounting a successful strategy vanishes by the moment.
The Democrat effectively lost when he tried to turn his candidacy into a race against President Bush and the Iraq war — an obvious ploy rejected even by anti-Bush voters. His confused plan to raise taxes on wealthier Californians while cutting them for the middle class got no traction, as savvy middle-class voters understood that such schemes end up nicking them, too.
The governor’s pledge to hold the line on taxes resonates even in a state whose voters esteem a large public sector. And, whereas the tax issue may be this election’s true pivot, there are many other reasons to commend Schwarzenegger’s leadership.
In his first year, he restored the state’s lost credit in the financial markets. He made life easier for businesses large and small by cutting their outsized worker compensation bills. And he brought sanity to the immigration debate when many in his party were moving irrationally to keep hard-working migrants away from our crops and services.
We do wish he had blown up more bureaucratic boxes, as he promised when he took office. And we’re not as impressed as some by his utopian dream of ending global warming by legislative command, a dream that could seriously impair California’s mobile economy. Nor were we thrilled by his prescription drug plan, which will forestall needed medical reform.
But we do like Schwarzenegger’s independent spirit, which can be a model for taking the state’s politics out of the old, partisan categories and committing Sacramento to fresh thinking.
We agree with the California voters who are ready to re-elect an accomplished governor.
Part of The San Francisco Examiner's 2006 election coverage.