Unless He Can Build Consensus, Gov. Schwarzenegger's Plans
(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., Jan. 26, 2006) -- Despite making grand promises to improve California during his recent "State of the State" address, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plans are doomed to fail unless he is able to build a statewide consensus on clear reform priorities, according to an analysis by Cal State Northridge's Center for Southern California Studies.
for Reform will Fail, CSUN Researcher Says
"California's prospects for significant reform are dimming," says political science professor Tom Hogen-Esch in his policy brief, Taking California's Temperature: Prospects for Reform Under Schwarzenegger. "Gov. Schwarzenegger's popularity--or lack thereof--notwithstanding, the leadership required to meet California's emerging challenges goes beyond business as usual. This study demonstrates that California's political culture continues to favor centrism and pluralist collaboration. The forging of political coalitions across party lines continues to be a necessary, if elusive, tool for establishing meaningful responses to California's most vexing problems…It is not yet clear whether the governor has the will, or capacity, to lead such a process. And until such leadership emerges, optimism for California's prognosis remains premature."
Hogen-Esch, director of policy studies and community outreach for the center, measured Californians' opinions of Schwarzenegger's tenure in office, beginning with the 2003 special election that led to his governorship and ending with the 2005 special election in which voters rejected all eight reform measures he backed on the ballot. Hogen-Esch took a look at voting patterns and political affiliations across the state. In the process, he weighed whether Schwarzenegger was capable of leading a bipartisan reform coalition, and what type of reform Californians want from their government.
"Our goals," said Hogen-Esch, "were to assess where and why the governor lost ground among his political base over the last two years, to understand why his special election measures fared so poorly, and to lay out a general framework for a new reform agenda."
In the policy brief, Hogen-Esch pointed out that at the time of the 2003 special election, Schwarzenegger promised a bipartisan effort to change the government. But by the 2005 special election, he had made a dramatic political shift to the right. In the process, he alienated Democrats and Independents who had initially supported him and cast doubts on whether bipartisanship was possible. At the same time, many of the ballot measures he backed in 2005 would have concentrated greater power in the governor's office, alarming many in the electorate.
"Rather than being elected to impose reform upon California, Californians elected Schwarzenegger to use his star power to overcome intense partisanship and forge bipartisan reform coalitions," the report says. "In saying no to all eight initiatives, Californians did not reject reform, but rather reforms that would have concentrated power in the governor's office. Californians want reforms to be the result of bipartisan compromise and consensus building. California's progressive political culture means that voters are unlikely to support reforms that upset the balance of power in California government."
The problem, the report points out, is that bringing about major political reform in California is hard to do.
In addition to the political obstacles--from the opposition of interest groups to suspicion and reluctance across political lines--Schwarzenegger's proposals to spend billions on the state's infrastructure still do not address the structural causes of the state's fiscal crisis, among them the two-thirds threshold required for passing a state budget and the fiscal limitations on property taxes imposed by Proposition 13.
"Without the political courage to attack the state's fiscal problems at their source, the current political leadership may leave behind new infrastructure, while crippling future generations with debt," the report says.
In addition to the questions surrounding who will pay for the new proposals, doubts remain as to whether Schwarzenegger can build public support for his plans.
"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected in 2003 following a public revolt against politics as usual. Thus, his political power is inextricably tied to his popularity with the public," the report says. "Yet, the governor wasted his political capital by continuing politics as usual--inflaming partisan differences and undermining consensus-building. Unless the governor can rebuild and expand his political base among California voters, particularly in urban areas, his reform agenda is likely to fail."
Copies of the report are available from CSUN's Center for Southern California Studies by calling (818) 677-6518 or by visiting its Web site at http://www.csun.edu/cscs/.
CSUN's Center for Southern California Studies was established in 1996 to provide research, education and service on policy issues facing Southern California. Driven by the goal of achieving well-informed public policy discussions, the center offers diverse programs that facilitate pathways to productive policy dialogue aimed at building community capacity and participation.