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Worst Governor Ever

by: Robert Cruickshank

Wed Dec 29, 2010 at 08:00:00 AM PST

Arnold Schwarzenegger is packing up his office in the Capitol and finally, after 7 long years, leaving his post as governor of California. It comes not a moment too soon, as he has distinguished himself as the worst governor in California history by quite a wide margin. The Sacramento Bee's readers agreed there was one word that encapsulated his misrule: failure.

George Skelton has recognized that the recall of Governor Gray Davis in the fall of 2003, which brought Schwarzenegger to office, was a colossal mistake. John Myers of KQED offered a more in-depth assessment of Arnold's signature failure, his inability to fix the state's budget mess. And he leaves office with approval ratings at record lows - at or below the numbers Gray Davis had when he was recalled.

But why exactly did Arnold fail? Getting that story right matters quite a lot as Governor Jerry Brown and the Democratic legislature seek to fix not just the 7 years of misrule, but 32 years of destructive policies that were initiated by the passage in June 1978 of Prop 13. More below.

Robert Cruickshank :: Worst Governor Ever
Arnold's defenders and apologists blame the state's broken political process and its entrenched "special interests" for making it impossible for the former action movie star to "blow up the boxes" in Sacramento. There's no doubt that California's government is indeed broken, and many labor unions - often the target of the "special interest" charge - helped mobilize voters to reject Arnold's proposals.

But this lets Arnold off the hook for his own failures, which were ideological in nature. Arnold Schwarzenegger became the worst governor in California history through his unwavering commitment to a far-right economic agenda, his fealty to the large corporations who helped elect him back in 2003, and his pursuit of a shock doctrine attack on the state's institutions and prosperity in the service of his ideology and of his wealthy backers.

Early in his tenure in office, Arnold rejected advice from Warren Buffet and others that he needed to raise taxes in 2004 to close the state's budget gap. Instead of this responsible - and necessary - solution, Arnold stuck to his ideological guns. He pushed through a costly campaign promise to repeal the restoration of a higher Vehicle License Fee, costing the state $6 billion a year in expenditures to local government to make up the lost funds.

Arnold's "solution" to the structural revenue shortfall was to borrow our way out of the mess. A total of $25 billion in bonds were sold to help pay the operating costs of the state in 2004 and 2005. While deficit spending in a recession is sensible, California's economy was in recovery during those years, and could have handled a tax increase. In fact, a tax increase, especially on property taxes, might have slowed the growth of the real estate bubble that eventually crippled the state's economy. The debt service on those bonds takes away from other spending priorities, and lessens the state's ability to borrow to build infrastructure.

After Arnold's extremist special election initiatives were rejected by voters in 2005, he embarked on a high-profile effort to moderate his image and, for a time, his governance. The only product of this period worth noting was his belated support for AB 32, a bill that any Democratic governor would have signed in a heartbeat. Meanwhile Arnold ignored other concerns, such as a growing property bubble and the need to wean the state off of its dependence on oil. While Arnold was signing AB 32 in the late summer of 2006, he was threatening to eliminate the funding for the California High Speed Rail Authority, risking the HSR project.

This short period of moderation did not last. From 2007 onward, Arnold became a truly destructive force. As the economy turned south, he began implementing a shock doctrine attack on California's basic prosperity. The term comes from Naomi Klein's 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, she explains how the last 30 years of neoliberal economic policy, aimed at the transfer of wealth away from working people and toward a small elite, was implemented largely through the taking advantage of a crisis, a crisis usually manufactured by those same neoliberals. As she explained it to Democracy Now!:

The shock doctrine, like all doctrines, is a philosophy of power. It's a philosophy about how to achieve your political and economic goals. And this is a philosophy that holds that the best way, the best time, to push through radical free-market ideas is in the aftermath of a major shock. Now, that shock could be an economic meltdown. It could be a natural disaster.

This describes Arnold Schwarzenegger's approach to California government after mid-2007 quite well. Surrounded by Friedman acolytes such as David Crane, Arnold sought to use the recession and the budget crisis to push through a radical attack on government and prosperity that he would never have accomplished before the crisis - a crisis he himself provoked by his failure to resolve the underlying budget problems as described above.

What did Arnold's shock doctrine attack look like? Let's review the list:

• An unprecedented attack on education. Over $9 billion was cut from K-12 schools in 2009, leading to mass layoffs of teachers and a collapse in instructional quality. The intent appears to have been to force parents and students into the arms of private charter school operators, something that had been resisted prior to the crisis.

• Similarly, Arnold slashed higher education budgets as part of a predetermined plan to privatize higher ed. While the privatization isn't complete, UC and CSU education has become increasingly unaffordable for most Californians. Along with the K-12 cuts, these cuts threaten the state's future prosperity.

• Beyond education, Arnold pushed a broad privatization project, intended to encompass as much of state government as possible, including infrastructure projects - despite the higher cost of public/private partnerships.

• Arnold has pushed mass transit in California to the brink of collapse through his cuts to state transportation funding. Despite a massive increase in mass transit ridership after gas prices rose in 2007, Arnold has attacked mass transit in the service of his oil company donors, who want to eliminate the competition and force Californians to pay their exorbitant prices. Without affordable, available mass transit options, California cannot possibly hope to recover from a recession triggered when gas prices rose above $3/gal in 2006.

• Arnold's attack on health and human services, from his cuts to Medi-Cal to his effort to eliminate CalWORKS and even his proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS services, has been designed with two purposes in mind: to increase poverty, and to push more people to spend their health care dollars in the private sector.

• Arnold frequently acted as a puppet of the right-wing, anti-business California Chamber of Commerce, implementing their job-killing agenda of favoring large corporations at the expense of small and medium-sized businesses of the state. Under Schwarzenegger, California lost millions more jobs than under Gray Davis. Unemployment rates in 2010 were nearly double those of the peaks seen during Gray Davis's tenure as governor.

We could go on, and I encourage others to add in the comments the ways in which Arnold Schwarzenegger has destroyed the California Dream.

But the conclusion is clear and obvious. Arnold failed not because he couldn't get his agenda through Sacramento - quite the opposite. He failed because so much of his right-wing shock doctrine did make it through Sacramento to become law.

I wish that Arnold had been defeated at every turn. Sadly, he wasn't, and only in his final year in office did Sacramento Democrats learn that resisting him was necessary - and only then after the public had already turned on the governor.

Arnold's failure is the failure of his right-wing ideology. No wonder California voters soundly rejected Meg Whitman last month, who promised to continue Arnold's right-wing policies.

It's unclear whether Jerry Brown can use his third term as governor to fix this mess. It will take a long time to recover from the catastrophic Schwarzenegger Administration. We might be able to begin the recovery in spring 2011 if voters approve new revenues to restore the cuts Arnold brutally pushed through. But even then it will just be the start of a long road of recovery.

Back in 2003, many joked about the Terminator becoming governor of California. Nobody is laughing now. Arnold Schwarzenegger terminated the California Dream, smashing prosperity and gutting the public services that made the middle-class possible. In an ideal world, he would be chased from office by pitchforks and torches, and would be forced to flee California entirely. Instead he slinks from office back to Brentwood to enjoy his riches along with his wealthy allies, untouched and apparently unmoved by the suffering they have wrought.

It's up to us to fix what he destroyed. And it begins by ensuring everyone knows why Arnold failed, and why we must never allow his policies to become law again.

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Worst Governor Ever | 25 comments
Planned peripheral canal (5.00 / 2)
He pushed through a plan for an expensive peripheral canal--backed by Sean Hannity and Faux Noise--that voters had already rejected once, won't fix the problems, and isn't paid for by the bill he rammed through. But even he didn't have the cojones to put it in front of voters this year, knowing it would go down to failure as so many of his other voter initiatives have.

Interestingly, when given the chance to vote on his plans, voters rejected them more often than the Assembly did. Either California voters are smarter than our elected representatives, or our governance practices are badly broken. I suspect the latter as state voters have been duped quite successfully many, many times. This also tells me that Ahnold's propositions were so glaringly bad that nobody could sell them, and that he did a better job of strong-arming the "big 5" than he did of selling state voters.

Thanks for This! (5.00 / 2)
This article is superb. I have concentrated on Schwarzenegger's corporate dominated water policies in my writing, but his role in the Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt collapses is caused by his subservience to neo-liberal economic policies and his corporate backers, as you so well expose.

I'm so glad that you have exposed the truth of Schwarzenegger's destruction of California. Too many corporate Democrats and corporate environmentalists have collaborated with Schwarzenegger in the systematic destruction of California. The Sacramento Bee, corporate media and corporate environmentalists have completely greenwashed Schwarzenegger's environmental reign of terror - and I'm glad you have exposed Schwarzenegger for the fraud that he is.

Soon enough (0.00 / 0)
Mr Freeze will be Terminated and Jerry Brown will become Governor, It's over Ahnold, Go back to Hollywood and do what You did best, Make movies.

Worst Ever? (5.00 / 2)
Well this is being a little tough on Arnold, although he truly deserves it. There are some republican governors from the late 80's early 90's who give Arnold some good competition for this honor.  I am thinking of you Pete Wilson.  

John Freeman

Schwarzenegger worse than Wilson? (5.00 / 2)
I would like to make the case that Wilson was the worse Governor ever.  Arnold looked at our horrible economic situation (which was not really of his making) and responded by making it worse with all the additional debt.  Faced with a bad choice and a worse choice, he generally selected the worst possible choice.

However, he did support AB 32 (late or early, it was atypical for a Republican, so he gets credit).  He did appoint Mary Nichols and several other quality appointments--he gets credit for that.

He also supported reapportionment reform and an open primary.  I understand that I might be the only one here who views that as a positive, and I am grateful for those who tolorate my odd viewpoints.  

Wilson started as a corporate type who wanted a limited government to do things well.  He spoke of "preventative" government and championed pre-natal care for poor women.  Then he found his voice with unmerciful attacks on just about anyone who was not white and rich.  

Wilson did not invent the exploitation of popular hatred for political gain, but he refined it and brought it to the modern age.  I don't really know if Wilson was actually filled with hate or was just calculating to realize the power of hate.  Its an academic difference.

I don't like many of the choices that Schwarzenegger made, but I don't feel that his heart was quite as dark as Wilson's.  Reasonable minds can disagree on this one.

White Power Wilson (0.00 / 0)
I totally agree
White Power Wilson was the Worst
Wilson was the architect of Nixon's 'Southern Strategy' to capture anti Civil Rights southern whites

To say nothing of 'Energy De-Regulation'
This put us in a REAL hole
But, Wilson surely had Democratic support to pass this catastrophic legislation

Arnold will have to settle for one of the worst

[ Parent ]
AB 1890 (0.00 / 0)
The deregulation bill passed unanimously.  At the time, the Speaker of the Assembly was (Republican) Curt Pringle, he lost the speakership to Cruz Bustamonte on December 2, 1996 (probably filling an empty seat; I don't recall the details.)

[ Parent ]
Curt Pringle (0.00 / 0)
Was reappointed to the CHSRA Board by Ahnold.

[ Parent ]
Again, Thanks! (0.00 / 0)
I see that this article has been published in a number of locations, including the California Progress Report and yuba.net. I sent it out to my media and activist list and I hope it is read by lots and lots of people.

This piece tells the truth about the Schwarzenegger regime - and counters the disinformation piece  that Terry Tamminen, former Cal EPA head, wrote about Schwarzenegger on the Huffington Post.  

Steinberg, Bass, Perez (5.50 / 4)
and all the Dem legislators who went along with him, right down to the photo ops, should have been held accountable for enabling the b@$!@rd. Selling the Supreme Court building was absolutely the last straw.

Guess I still have San Francisco hippie values, although I'm an engineer

If people had known (0.00 / 0)
At the time and called in, Maybe this bad smelling joke wouldn't be on Jerry Browns plate, He has a lot already, This will only add to the states problems, If It's allowed to stand.

[ Parent ]
Pumping Iron (0.00 / 0)
Arnold explained his strategy in Pumping Iron- exercise of power, and subjection of the weak or less powerfull.  It's very much in line with his policy choices, screw the weak, infirm, young, or poor - as they have little power, particulary political power for the benefit of the very powerful few. His adherence to shock doctrine policies was very evident early in his administration, and was a very prominent feature (Susan Kennedy/David Crane).
Good riddance to bad rubbish!

Quote from a Republican (0.00 / 0)
when looking at education budget issues: "I never thought I would miss Gray Davis."

Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

Why did Ahnold fail? (4.00 / 1)
Simple: Term Limits allowed an amateur to get into power, Even Conservatives now admit that Term Limits were wrong, Some people just don't belong in Government and Actors usually aren't qualified.

term limits wha? (4.00 / 1)
arnold got installed in a recall election, not because davis termed out. this makes no sense.

[ Parent ]
He's (0.00 / 0)
Out cause He did serve 7 years, So He's termed Out.

[ Parent ]
Please Explain (0.00 / 0)
Your sentences do not make sense.  Your first clause:

Term Limits allowed an amateur to get into power

This applies in only two gubernatorial elections in California:  The election of (Lt. Governor) Gray Davis to replace Pete Wilson, and the election of Jerry Brown to replace Ahnold.

Furthermore, your subject ("Why did Ahnold fail") with the comment pointing to term limits also implies you think he'd have been a more successful governor with more time in office.

Alternatively, you are implying that Gray Davis was "an amateur" and that Pete Wilson should have remained governor?

Can you clarify?

[ Parent ]
Apples to Orange comparison (0.00 / 0)
1. Ahnold was/is termed out as He served 2 terms, He was not defeated by Jerry Brown or by Meg in the last election.

2. I'm only talking about Ahnold, He was no pol before the recall, He was an Actor, Actors need scripts and Direction, He had neither as Governor. Davis had been a pol before, So He was no Amateur. Ahnold=Orange(spoiled) Davis=Apple, Its an Apples to Orange comparison. I wasn't talking about Davis in the 1st place.

[ Parent ]
ok, so how did "term limits allow an amateur to get into power"? (0.00 / 0)
in the context of arnold? i still don't see how the first sentence leads to the second.

[ Parent ]
By making (0.00 / 0)
Most old Career Pols ineligible to run again for that same post, It seems Career is bad and short term pol or Citizen is good, Some elected officials don't listen now(some didn't listen before either), So in that respect Term Limits is a failure, As the only success I see is the revolving door, Of course most including Myself aren't qualified to be elected(higher than the local level), I and most others couldn't write new laws or amend existing laws as We aren't lawyers or attorneys, Life in Politics is not all absolutes I've read. Compromise is when both sides agree to terms that are mutually agreeable, As that is give and take, Even If the original intent was fully this way or fully that way. But then one can't always get what one wants. I'd like to still have My Brother around, But I don't see that as possible.

[ Parent ]
Had there been no term limits (0.00 / 0)
And had he run in Meggy's place, he would have been routed.  Angelides lost in 2006 partly because he's not a  good campaigner ( not to say he wouldn't have been a good gov, just that he doesn't have the bs talent one needs to win), partly because of the political climate and partly onnacounta having less  cash than Ahnold, but mostly on name recognition alone.  

Actors have ruined our loverly state.  Bah, humbug.

[ Parent ]
Silver Lining (0.00 / 0)
There is a silver lining to every cloud and to Term limits its that only 2 Governors can never come back- Pete Wilson & Arnold. It may be poor policy but not all bad.

Arnold's success (0.00 / 0)
Arnold succeeded spectacularly at one thing, anyway: he kept taxes from going up on himself and his rich friends.  From their point of view, he was a great success.

arnold left the state in worse shape in the short run (0.00 / 0)
but i would argue that governor reagan was a worse governor, when viewed in light of what long-term policies and political trends he contributed to as governor of california.

privatizing the UC, starving public services, cutting taxes, culture wars, militarized police forces, are all coming to ugly fruition now, but they really got going under reagan.

i don't see schwarzeneggar's policy or political legacy as being anywhere near as durable in the long run, most of the BS he tried to force on the state was voted down in his special elections, and much of the bad deals he forced on the state using the CAGOP legislative rump will be reversed in the coming decade.

Poll (0.00 / 0)
Since we can add polls to our diaries, I've added a quick diary entry for a poll:


Vote!  It's the Democratic Way!

[ Parent ]
Worst Governor Ever | 25 comments
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