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Evaluating the Schwarzenegger vote.

"Why the recall is wrong"

"Vote 'No' on recall"

"No ... and nobody"

These editorial page headlines, from three of the largest newspapers in California, exhorted readers to shun the recall of Governor Gray Davis. Many Golden State papers, large and small, condemned the recall and urged voters to pick "nobody" on the replacement side of the ballot.

But while most newspapers went one way, most voters went another. They booted Davis, a Democrat twice elected in a heavily Democratic state, by a margin of 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent.

It was a great move, a board of directors move, a move that rebuked those (in state and out) who said they knew better.

So voters elected movie icon Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gathered 48.6 percent of the vote even with potential GOP spoiler Tom McClintock in the race. Schwarzenegger and McClintock won a combined 62.1 percent of the vote, while Davis disciple Cruz Bustamante took 31.5 percent of the pie.

Your textbook bloodless revolution.

Before the uprising, we at The Press-Enterprise told our half-million readers that we sympathized with voters who would give Davis the political guillotine. We then opposed the recall on grounds of procedure and consistency, acknowledged that it probably would pass, and endorsed Arnold--if you meet him, you'll feel like calling him Arnold, though we didn't in our endorsement editorial--as the pick of the replacement ballot. We made clear our reservations about the actor's political inexperience and wished aloud for a candidate like former L.A. pol and Schwarzenegger pal Dick Riordan. But for us, the nearly blank political resume was not a nonstarter. Davis's decades on the public-office escalator led the state to sleazy deals and ruinous deficits, proving that success is not a corollary of experience.

What we liked was Arnold's blend of fiscal conservatism and social moderation, his positive outlook, his gestures of bipartisanship, and this simple fact: He gets it.

He gets that California's deficits flow from a spending frenzy by a state whose residents' tax burden is one of the highest in the country. Legislators and Davis used one-time revenues from the dot-com boom of the late '90s to expand perpetual spending, despite warnings from the Legislative Analyst that the jackpot was temporary.

He gets that Sacramento has soured the business climate in this state with a battery of laws and serial capitulations to interests that profiteer at public expense. Examples range from mandatory paid family leave to the exploding costs of workers' compensation insurance, which has burst from a nine billion-dollar-a-year industry to a twenty-nine billion dollar annual boondoggle in just five years. He gets that businesses don't just shrug at these new costs, but must offset them by trimming raises, shedding jobs, deferring capital investment, and sometimes fleeing the state.

Most of all, he gets people. And he gets that people in leadership roles need to take risks to thrive.

That's something Gray Davis, as risk-averse as the drab suits he wore, never understood. Arnold really is the anti-Davis, daring and dynamic and moored by a world view. Arnold makes mistakes, Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte recently told our editorial board, "but he doesn't make the same mistake twice."

Scaling back the damage

If I sound delighted to have a governor who's scaling back the damage in California, I am. Schwarzenegger has rescinded a tripling of the car tax, negotiated the repeal of a bill to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants without background checks, and drafted a budget with respectable spending cuts. I haven't agreed with all of his choices as governor, but I respect his willingness to make those choices instead of punting for fear of irking some throng of voters, agitators, or contributors.

At the same time, and this is a huge asterisk, it's still wayyyy early. And I can't blame other California newspapers for their skepticism. We were wary, too. His campaign was starry and vague, his record as blank as an inky sky.

Who knew for sure if he could perform politically?

But editors' reaction to Schwarzenegger's candidacy raises a compelling question about newspaper endorsements and their frequent tilt toward the status quo. Are we too quick to dismiss candidates who lack political pedigrees? Are there times when a question mark is better than a known, and experienced, failure? Do we have a double standard, supporting some political first-timers for high office (The Sacramento Bee endorsed business executive Al Checchi in the 1998 Democratic gubernatorial primary) while eschewing others?

Do we, too, need to take risks to thrive?

Gale Hammons is editorial page editor of The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California. E-mail ghammons@pe.com
COPYRIGHT 2004 National Conference of Editorial Writers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Hammons, Gale
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:773
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