What happened to the action, governor?
For two straight days, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has whined about judges, especially federal judges, who are challenging the authority of state government. He’s complained about a recent U.S. district court judge who imposed a preliminary injunction blocking cuts that he and the legislature agreed to make in home support services. He railed against other federal judges that have demanded the state spend more on prisons. And he took a shot at the federal judiciary for imposing restrictions on water delivery. He even criticized previous state court rulings that limited some of the furloughs he’s ordered to save money.
“The big problem, as you know, we have is the federal judges… makes it very difficult to run the state,” he said in a press conference Wednesday. “We have a limited amount of revenues coming in and therefore we can only spend what we have. There are a lot of cuts that we made that we hate, that we don’t like.”
Reciting his various gripes with the judiciary, Schwarzenegger built to this crescendo: “They are going absolutely crazy. So we have to have a very serious conversation with the federal government, because they’ve got to let us run the state.”
A conversation? That’s it?
Talk’s cheap. You were elected to manage the state. While I disagree with some of the choices you and lawmakers have made on these issues, you have a strong point about the judicial interference. A combination of factors – the Great Recession, the unbridgeable partisan divide in a legislature run by super-majorities, the California voters’ fantasy that they can have something for nothing, and, let’s be honest here, some of your own political mistakes – have left you in an impossible position. You’re stuck. The state is stuck. If you really believe what you’re saying about the judiciary, there’s a course of action – yes, action – available to you.
Defy those judges, governor.
You and the attorney general/governor-in-waiting have already sort of done this on the prisons. So make the rebellion bigger. Cut the IHSS budget anyway. Turn the water on. Furlough whomever you want to furlough.
What are the judges going to do? Fine the state?
Tell them you won’t pay.
Or maybe the judges will hold you in contempt and send you to prison?
Until they send the U.S. marshals to take you away in handcuffs, you should say the following, as loud and as often as you can:
“You wanna put me in prison? Fine. But don’t you guys read the papers?
“I’m the governor of California. I’m in prison already.
“I’d be happy to do every single thing that judges want me to do. I’d love to spend more money to fix the prisons, avoid furloughs and prevent the IHSS cuts. But we’re already a billion dollars short on the budget we signed three months ago. And where else am I supposed to cut? The legislature won’t cut from some things, the voters stopped me from taking money from surpluses in two big health programs, and I’d have to violate the state constitution to cut some others, which would only get me in trouble with more judges.
“Raise taxes, you say? I did that. And I tried to raise taxes even more, but the people of California said no in the May special election. By the way, some of the same people who are suing the state now opposed the tax increase back in May. I could propose another tax increase, but we have a two-thirds rule and the Republicans would just block it. Plus, our economy is in the toilet, and it’s not clear that raising taxes is going to produce more in revenues right now.
“On the prisons, I’ve spent years pushing to let more people out of prison and get the things you want built. This was a political risk, and it left me isolated on the issue. On water, I’ve tried everything I can think of to get a deal, including threatening to veto every bill in the assembly. Nothing has worked so far.
“So, your Honors, I could do everything you ask me to do right now, but paying for it would require me to violate other parts of the law and maybe my oath of office. If the federal government demands that all these things be done, fine. Let the feds pay for it.
“Or you can hold me in contempt, fine us money we don’t have, or send me to jail. But sending me won’t be enough. You’ll have to send the unions, the water interests, the disability advocates, the legislature, hell – the 17 million voters of California too. And I’m quite sure the federal system doesn’t have the space for all of us.
“So, unless you’re going to give us billions or grant me the authority to seize Google on behalf of the state, you need to shut up and mind your own bleeping business.”
Too risky? Not really. The state wouldn’t be in any worse a position than it is now. And you yourself are already terribly unpopular. Picking a fight with judges might convince lawmakers and voters alike that you really do have spine. And yes, the New York Times editorial page won’t wait two minutes until they compare you to George Wallace. Let ‘em. You tell ‘em that the judges, with their unreasonable demands to fund prisons and health and state workers at the expense of the other programs, are the folks standing in the schoolhouse door.
Defying the judges would at least give you another chance to communicate to the public the depth of the state’s problems—and the need for major reform and real sacrifice to fix California’s mess. The public still doesn’t understand its own responsibility for what’s happened.
Defiance also would put pressure on the Obama administration, which has been irresponsible in its failure to provide enough assistance to California and other state governments that are damaging their own economies through big cuts and tax increases.
Does the whole idea make you nervous, governor? Well ask yourself this question: do you have any better ideas for getting out of this fix?
Heck, you already know the right line for this situation. That’s right. Just give those judges that Terminator stare and tell ‘em: “Talk to the hand.”