- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as California’s 38th governor yesterday. He told his state’s citizens, “I am humbled and I am moved and I am honored beyond words to be your governor.” There was extra emphasis on humility. Despite the glamour of the state’s new chief executive, the occasion did not resemble an Academy Awards gala. For his first day in office, Mr. Schwarzenegger sounded a serious note, befitting the many serious challenges he faces.

His decisions since the Oct. 7 recall election have set him off on the right foot. For the most part, he has picked serious professionals with practical experience to head government departments. To run the state correctional system, for example, Mr. Schwarzenegger appointed a former guard who has dealt with prison problems from the inside. Obviously the worst crisis facing California is financial. The state already is $25 billion in debt, is set to add $10 billion more debt in a year, and — if nothing changes — is on target to reach at least $62 billion in debt in five years. To take the helm as his finance director, Mr. Schwarzenegger named Donna Arduin, a skilled budget cutter who has helped clean up the books in Florida, Michigan and New York. Intellectual vision is being offered by free-market hero Milton Friedman.

Mr. Schwarzenegger has set his sights on big issues from the get-go. One of the first legacies of former Gov. Gray Davis that is scheduled to be overturned is the 11th-hour decision to grant valid state driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. Mr. Davis’ move to use state law to validate the breaking of federal law was opposed by 69 percent of Californians, including more than 50 percent of Hispanics. The other major legislation up front on the agenda is to repeal his predecessor’s tripling of the car registration tax. With a huge deficit, this move takes guts. By striking down the tax increase, $4 billion in annual revenue will be taken from state coffers. This gives hope that perhaps, finally, Sacramento will realize the state’s budget crisis is rooted in too much spending — not a lack of revenue.

There are sure to be partisan differences in California. But Democrats will have to tread lightly in opposing their superstar governor because he does have a strong mandate. More than 70 percent of Californians say that the state is going in the wrong direction. Even among those who did not vote for him, there is a sense of desperation that the Golden State has to change directions radically and quickly. The sense of urgency plays into the governor’s hands and may provide him the popular support necessary to win legislative backing for serious reform. Having the experience of a former weight lifter will come in handy for Gov. Schwarzenegger as he works to lift California’s heavy burdens.


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