- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2005

LOS ANGELES.

Even the Terminator can make a mistake. A new television commercial promoting his four propositions on Tuesday’s ballot reveals a Terminator with humility:

“I’ve had a lot to learn,” he says, leaning into the friendly camera with practiced sincerity, “and sometimes I learned the hard way. But my heart is in this, and I want to do right by you.”

Humility is the new face of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the tough guy governor of California and the scourge of girlie men everywhere, and if the polls are correct — a big enough “if” because the polls are all over the place — he needs all the help he can find. The initiatives to make it easier to govern a state that sometimes seems ungovernable are in trouble.

The four Schwarzenegger initiatives would restrict tenure for public-school teachers, give members of public-employee unions greater say in how their dues are spent in political campaigns, restrain public spending by according governors more control over budgets, and take the task of drawing both state legislative and congressional districts away from the Legislature and give it to a bipartisan panel of retired judges.

Cleaning up Sacramento and the infestation of hacks, lobbyists and special pleaders common to every capital requires more than a big broom with sharp bristles, and turned out to be harder than it looks. The view from Hollywood distorts most of all. Riding the imagination of a clever screenwriter, a leading man can render the impossible a piece of cake (preferably the three-layer coconut-and-grapefruit yellow cake at the old Brown Derby) in just under two hours. Governors usually can’t do it in two terms.

Nevertheless, the referenda campaigns are inevitably wrapped in the aura of a Hollywood movie. Warren Beatty, who despite the ascendancy of Geena Davis as the Commander-in-Chief imagines that he’s still President Bulworth, has taken on both the governor and Maria Shriver, the first lady. Miss Shriver held a conference on women and families the other day in Long Beach (Jane Fonda and Sandra Day O’Connor made the scene to give the occasion the requisite Hollywood/Washington verisimilitude) and she didn’t mention her husband’s propositions by name, but pointedly told President Bulworth that his 15 minutes of fame expired several scenes ago.

“When I look in the mirror,” she said, “I don’t just see a first lady. I don’t just see a Kennedy or a Schwarzenegger. I don’t just see a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister or a friend. And thank God, I don’t see Warren Beatty.”

The governor — the real one, this year — has learned as all governors everywhere before him that control of the budget is the key to getting anything done. The key to controlling the budget, and hence the spending, is the Legislature, and California legislators have written a protect-the-incumbent scam they don’t want to relinquish.

Democrats now hold 33 of the 53 congressional seats. If their legislators in Sacramento no longer draw the congressional districts the Republicans will pick up seats, just as they did after Tom DeLay forced reform in Texas. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democratic minority in the House, is raising money to defeat Prop 77.

Several Democratic congressmen have reached into their own pockets to defeat Prop 77. Most of the Republicans are for it, but not all. Some are against it because they think making congressional districts more representative would occasionally translate to moderate and liberal Republicans. Better a liberal Democrat than a moderate Republican. (Nancy Pelosi, send these gents roses.)

The savants conclude that the governor erred in putting his propositions up this year, in a special election to attract thousands, rather than next year, when a red-hot governor’s race will bring out millions. If Tuesday brings bad news, the Terminator can put it down to another lesson learned the hard way.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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