The likelihood is growing that the Democratic legislature, in a fit of partisan pique, will turn down Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nomination of GOP Sen. Abel Maldonado to be lieutenant governor – at least that’s what the capital rumor mill says.
Maldonado was chosen in part because he was one of the few Republican legislators to work with the governor and the Democrats to solve the state’s fiscal problems – often joining with the Democrats to vote against his own party. But the fact that Maldonado could be found in the Democratic foxhole seems not to be sufficient to keep the Democratic leadership from shooting down the fellow that helped them the most.
It will be a long cold day in hell before any other Republicans crosses the aisle to work in a bipartisan way, and lots of luck to Senate Leader Darrel Steinberg and Assembly Speaker (enter name here) in getting bipartisan cooperation to close the next multi-billion dollar budget hole.
But there one way for Schwarzenegger to ride to the rescue of his embattled nominee: triggering the nuclear option. And what would that be? Schwarzenegger should make it clear that if Steinberg and company reject Maldonado, he will see to it that the proposal titled: “Reduces Legislative Session and Pay by At Least 50 Percent” makes it onto the November ballot.
This is the part time legislature initiative that is currently in circulation. It needs 700,000 valid signatures by Mach 29, 2010 to make the fall ballot. It probably does not have sufficient backing to make the ballot on its own, but intervention by The Terminator could terminate the cushy life style legislators enjoy today – and that would get their attention.
People say such bone crushing behavior is not in the nature of the former Mr. Olympic, and it has not been so far. Schwarzenegger came into office right off the movie set, and unfortunately brought too many of the mores of Hollywood with him. An actor desires to be loved. But a successful governor is not just loved; he is first respected, sometimes feared, and only after that should he bother with being loved. Five years into his governorship Schwarzenegger is not respected, not feared – and not loved.
Schwarzenegger has used the hammer of his office too sparingly; well, this is one time he can use it to great effect. With polling now showing a ten percent approval rating for the legislature, a cut their pay-send them home ballot measure would probably pass just based on the populist anger that is out there.
The measure itself is certainly draconian, it would bring the legislature to Sacramento for 30 days in January, and then they would return for 60 days in May. They could stay five extra days to act on governor’s vetoes – and that is it. Interestingly, the measure does not allow the governor to call special legislative sessions. They would have 95 days each year to get everything done. And the commission that sets legislative pay is instructed to cut legislative salaries in half beginning in 2012.
Interestingly, there is at least one strong policy argument in favor of the part time legislature. A number of states that meet only for a few months each year are doing much better than California. Most of these are small states, but one big state does stand out: Texas.
Texas is the nation’s second largest state behind California, and is the only state comparable to California in economic clout. In fact, The Economist Magazine wrote earlier this year that Texas is passing California as the nation’s economic superpower. The Milken Institute recently designated Austin as the nation’s most livable city, and listed several other Texas cities among the top ten places to live; no California city made the list.
The impressive sandstone Texas State Capitol sits at the end of Austin’s Congress Avenue, atop a hill surrounded by a large park filled with statues of long forgotten Confederate War heroes as well as a granite monument to the Ten Commandments. But Texas legislators meet for only 140 days every two years – they pass a two year budget but are on call for special sessions.
Somehow Texas has risen to the top of American states without full time legislators, huge political staffs and legions of lobbyists. Is there a lesson for California here? Well, Gov. Schwarzenegger should make it perfectly clear to Democratic leaders that if they reject Maldonado for lieutenant governor, the people of California will get an opportunity to find out.