Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his inauguration committee selected Democratic icon and noted raconteur Willie Brown to be master of ceremonies at the swearing-in ceremony Jan. 5. And only the most hard-core partisans from both parties seem to find this choice neither entertaining nor intriguing.
Brown, the former San Francisco mayor and longtime Assembly speaker, was being a political realist when he departed publicly from his party line early this fall to predict the governor’s landslide re-election.
And at his annual breakfast event in October, only a few weeks before the election, Brown gave Schwarzenegger a featured speaking spot between U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata. And Phil Angelides, Schwarzenegger’s defeated Democratic opponent, didn’t even show up at Brown’s gala because he failed to receive what he considered a proper invitation.
The entire Schwarzenegger-Brown link is interesting as an example of the enlightened bipartisanship that enabled this year’s Democratic legislative majority and the Republican governor to end years of stubbornly partisan gridlock in Sacramento and compromise on a historic public works bond package plus one of the least embittered budget processes in memory.
After an unproductively confrontational first year in office, Gov. Schwarzenegger recognized that his charisma and fame would not be enough to let him steamroll the legislative majority to get things done entirely his own way. And the public could hardly be more enthusiastic about the results, according to a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.
The poll found that 53 percent of the voters approve of the way the governor and the Legislature are working together. That is way up from only 14 percent last year. Even more voters — 58 percent — are confident Schwarzenegger and the legislative leaders will be able to continue working together and “accomplish a lot” in 2007.
The public sees the state government as being on a roll and has high hopes that inevitable clashes of political egos will not bring back the dark ages of partisan gridlock. One-third more voters this year have become happy about the direction the state is going, a percentage rise from 23 percent to 53 percent.
Gov. Schwarzenegger has a 60 percent job approval rating, following a 17 percent-margin re-election victory in which he took as much as one-third of the Democratic vote. Even the Legislature’s approval rating is up by one-fifth this year, although the latest peak is only 36 percent.
With Schwarzenegger and top Democratic Legislature leaders Núñez and Perata all reading the same poll numbers, and a generally strong economy making it easier for political opponents to find common ground, it seems unlikely that any of the threesome would rock the bipartisan boat if that could possibly be avoided.
Feeling somewhat left out of the happy times are the Legislature’s Republican minority, who undoubtedly felt they were standing on principle when they elected hard-line Assembly leader Mike Villines. But as long as Gov. Schwarzenegger continues his legislative winning streak, he will feel free to cross over party lines as often as he pleases.