Did Arnold Blow Up The GOP?

Anthony Pignataro:

It’s beyond cliche to say these days that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — whose term of office ends Monday, Jan. 3 — leaves behind a “mixed” legacy. He leaves a budget “in desperate shape,” but he “set a new political course for California,” the Los Angeles Times tells us, summing up the general summing up that typically occurs during the last week of the year, when just about everyone in a position of power seems to be on vacation and unavailable for comment.

One person in power who was available for comment despite being on vacation is Senator Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. I spoke with her about Schwarzenegger’s legacy, and was struck by one thing missing from the typical end-of-term analyses we’ve been reading. Pavley is one of the more liberal Democrats in the state Senate, and yet she didn’t really have anything bad to say about the Governator.

When I asked her what she thought we’d most remember Schwarzenegger for, she said, “Having a vision for a clean, secure energy future. It’s sort of a double win: good for the environment and the economy.”

Given Schwarzenegger’s hard-core support for greenhouse gas regulations and his popping up at seemingly every new electric car display around the state, it’s likely he would agree with Pavley that that’s his top accomplishment.

But when I asked Pavley for her thoughts on the biggest disappointment to come out of the Schwarzenegger Administration, she said something that, once again, Arnold might possibly agree with. “He missed an opportunity to invest in education,” she said. “It’s a challenging time, obviously, but he didn’t use his movie star bully pulpit for education like he did for climate change.”

It’s useful to remember that when Schwarzenegger first emerged as the front-runner in the 2003 recall election against then-Governor Gray Davis, California Republican Party officials grabbed onto the star of The Terminator and Kindergarten Cop because they thought he was one of them — a solid right-winger who’d never raise taxes, always veto spending and never, ever, give into the environmentalists on stuff like climate change, much less adopt their rhetoric and legislation as his own.

But that’s what happened, and given the results of the recent Meg Whitman for Governor campaign (as well as just about every other state race in November), the party still hasn’t recovered. Maybe five, 10 years from now, we won’t be talking about a bill or even budget issues when speaking of Schwarzenegger, but of how he hoodwinked the state Republican Party, sending it on a path to ruin.

DEC. 29, 2010

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