Gov. Schwarzenegger often has expressed a distaste for political horsetrading, the kind of threats and favors that are political currency. Want an appointment for a friend in exchange for a vote? Arnold wasn’t your guy. He often has described such deals as corrupt, the sort of behavior he was sent to Sacramento to stop.
The governor’s attitude is admirable. But given the state’s difficulties and the unwillingness of legislators to take action, it’s time for the his attitude to change. The state’s fiscal future demands pragmatic action, even dishonorable pragmatic action. We can’t afford a rerun of the same old movie: the budget deficit grows, the governor offers a compromise plan, the legislature doesn’t act and the problem gets pushed into the future. That’s not good enough anymore. Schwarzenegger has done his best, sought compromise, threatened initiatives, cozied up to lawmakers, begged, pleaded, etc. He’s tried just about everything, and nothing has worked. So it’s time for some good old-fashioned corrupt deal-making.
That’s right. Bribe ’em, governor. Offer them judgeships. Promise to cast them in the next Terminator movie. Put their friends and relatives on the payroll. Whatever it takes.
And don’t be afraid to issue some threats. Now, you put your toe in the water during the budget season with your blanket threat to veto all bills until you got a budget bill. But that wasn’t tough enough. You should make specific, private threats against the bills of any legislator who refuses to vote for real budget changes — both cuts and taxes. You might even go further. Threaten to use the blue pencil — the line-item veto — against the funding priorities of any lawmaker who doesn’t sign onto your plan. If a legislator won’t play ball and that legislator has a priority in the future, make it clear that it’ll be your priority to block that lawmaker’s priorities for the next two years.
And if that doesn’t do the trick, get even tougher. Leon Panetta has suggested that legislative leaders be locked in a room and not allowed to leave until they reach agreement. I love the former congressman’s emphasis on physical restraint, but he simply doesn’t go far enough. Confining them to a room isn’t enough. You need to think about limiting their movement entirely. I’m talking plastic handcuffs, or maybe tying shoelaces together when they’re at the table (that’s the kind of task for which deputy legislative secretaries were put on this earth). Yes, the atmosphere will turn poisonous. But what good is a pleasant working atmosphere if the state runs out of cash?
Of course, you’re probably too nice guy to do all this. But I hold out a tiny bit of hope. I was glad to see you suggest this week to the Sacramento Bee editorial board that you were thinking along some of these lines. Of the lame duck lawmakers you’ve called into special session, you said, "There could be others that say, ‘Look, I want to look for a job, and when the governor looks at my name down the line, maybe he will look at it in a more favorable way. Not that we’re doing trades or anything like that. But I mean, also that comes into play. So there’s different things like that where maybe you can get a vote here or a vote there."
Don’t stop there, governor. California’s future is more important than your honor. Do trades. Do threats. Do bribes. And do something real about our state’s persistently out-of-balance finances.