It’s fitting that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, upon his landslide re-election, should have led a trade mission to Mexico, California’s largest trading partner. The trip reaffirmed the state’s global role, and only an independent-minded chief executive with national presence could have pulled it off.
The governor’s own party did much to damage relations with our southern neighbor. It’s not that Mexico’s government, which sees its citizens’ migration to the north as an escape valve, can be held blameless. But too many Republican politicians depicted those invaluable job-seekers as an invading horde.
Their demagogy may have cost their party Hispanic votes for generations to come. The governor himself straddled the immigration debate, finally re-emerging as the inclusive candidate he prided himself on being when he launched his political career nearly four years ago.
This among multiple issues makes Schwarzenegger a compelling national figure. Because of his foreign birth, he is constitutionally barred from the presidency. It’s of more than passing interest then that, after last week’s Republican debacle, the nation’s eyes turn to the body-building film star as one of the minority party’s obvious leaders.
Curiously, given his national stature, he will stand out among a circle of Democratic statewide officers. Only one, newly elected Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, shares his party affiliation. In Mexico City, Schwarzenegger sounded unfazed, even ebullient, about the Democrats’ wide victories, whereas his essential Republican base
couldn’t quite find the smiles to hide its despondency.
For California Republicans, the worst outcome of the election was being robbed of an obvious line of succession. Sen. Tom McClintock, by a whisker, lost the lieutenant governorship to longtime Democratic politician John Garamendi. Bruce McPherson, by a thin margin, lost his bid for a full term as secretary of state to Democratic legislator Debra Bowen. His issue, voter fraud, will only build in intensity.
McClintock’s loss means the GOP almost certainly will look beyond government — to business or academia — for its next gubernatorial candidate. Mike Villines, the new Assembly minority leader,pleases the party’s conservative activists, but his Clovis district carries little electoral heft.
Since the humiliating defeat last year of his reform package, Gov. Schwarzenegger has worked around the Legislature’s Republicans, forging alliances with Democrats on the minimum wage, global warming and stem cell research. That coalition was necessary to place on the ballot $37 billion in bonds, approved by voters last week, for infrastructure improvements. Left unmentioned as he rolled over Phil Angelides’ hapless campaign: the Legislature’s ongoing addiction to deficit spending.
In Mexico City the governor encouraged the impression he’d stick with the independent course for the duration. If he’s tempted to seek a Senate seat, however, he’ll need to circle back to those conservative activists in the party he once called home. Listen for more Austrian-accented calls for fiscal prudence.