Bare-knuckle politics that ignore the public good and fight exclusively for narrow-interest greed is alive and well in California, just in case anybody didn’t notice. The big-spending prison guards’ union has begun a recall drive against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger almost exactly five years after the governor took office following the 2003 recall of the Gov. Gray Davis.
Schwarzenegger’s unforgivable sin, in the view of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, is that its 30,000 members have gone two years without a new contract and are not exempted from the executive order temporarily reducing pay of some 175,000 state workers to the $6.55 federal minimum hourly wage.
Of course, the correctional officers prefer to say they really want to rescue the state from a “dismal failure” Republican governor who is unable to resolve the record-long budget impasse over balancing a $15.2 billion deficit. Schwarzenegger’s attempted temporary pay rollback for state employees was meant to delay an immediate cash liquidity crisis and pressure the Legislature to act. But so far, that reduction has been blocked by the state treasurer, who challenges its lawfulness.
Some might wish the governor would resort to 24-hour jawboning of the lawmakers and nonstop bully pulpit pressuring. But such tactics, although satisfying, would hold little promise today. They are holdovers from those civilized days before unwavering two-party partisanship replaced the arts of negotiated compromise in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
At least Schwarzenegger has been proposing budget plans offering something for both parties. All that the no-cut Democrat majority and the no-new-tax Republican diehards are doing is to sit tight and wait for the other side to cave in. Meanwhile, real suffering is beginning to emerge as safety-net social nonprofits run out of funding.
California governors have only limited leverage to break a legislative deadlock, especially on revenue bills such as budgets that now require a two-thirds majority — which means a handful of determined lawmakers have the power to block any fiscal action. And this is only one of the structural obstacles that have increasingly led to California being called “ungovernable.”
If Gov. Schwarzenegger can be faulted for anything, it is for being overly optimistic during his first campaign and giving Californians too-high expectations about how he might solve the state’s problems by governing responsibly. More than most politicians, Schwarzenegger learned from his mistakes, trying to achieve change with successive periods of salesmanship, confrontation and ultimately settling realistic negotiations. Through it all, he remains willing to try advancing big visions for a better California.
As for the correctional officers association, it has added substantially to the state’s problems, mightily focusing on higher pay while resisting much-needed reforms that could make the overcrowded and violent 170,000-inmate prison system manageable enough to end the current federal interventions.