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How Much From Special Interests?

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Los Angeles Times
May 28, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by Steve Lopez

Governor Shapes Up as Master Politician

I had doubts, yes. But no more.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- let's face it -- is shaping up as one of the greatest politicians in California history.

His successes are well-documented, of course.

Workers' comp reform.

Passage of Propositions 57 and 58.

Speedy and crafty leadership on the budget.

Most remarkably, Schwarzenegger has bridged the political divide in polarized Sacramento, charming the pants off a spectrum of legislators ranging from John Burton on the left to Tom McClintock on the right.

But his victories tell only half the Schwarzenegger success story. What really puts the man in his own orbit is how much doublespeak and contradiction he's able to get away with through a unique convergence of celebrity, personality and animal cunning.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough space to touch on all the examples, but let's hit a few of the highlights.

For all his budget maneuvers and the attendant applause, Schwarzenegger has not come close to addressing the structural budget deficit that he so rightly promised to eliminate.

But it doesn't seem to matter.

Schwarzenegger has now dumped three respected state consumer protection officials, even though they led fights against things like auto repair scams and flammable bedding.

But we want his autograph.

On Wednesday the governor urged California drivers to beat high gas prices by becoming more conservation-minded.

But he drives a Hummer.

Do you see what I mean? Maybe we give him a pass because he represents our secret lust to be indulgent and unaccountable.

Schwarzenegger's approval ratings now reach beyond the ozone. A Field poll puts him at 65%, the loftiest height a California governor has reached in 45 years. Even 41% of Democrats give him two thumbs up.

Ronald Reagan, the great communicator, never hit 60% approval as governor.

Schwarzenegger promised to shine a light on shady deal-making in Sacramento, then moved to approve a controversial union of two giant healthcare providers without a public hearing.

He has hinted at supporting a ballot initiative that would limit Californians' right to sue for such unfair business practices as selling old meat with fake expiration dates, but sicced his lawyers on the maker of a bobblehead doll in his image.

"If you take money" from special interests, Schwarzenegger said, "you owe them something." This claim was at the very heart of his legendary rise.

And yet Schwarzenegger has raked in more cash than the Catholic Church. To name just one example, he has pocketed more than $1 million from oil, insurance, healthcare, banking, automobile, and supermarket bigwigs who are backing the initiative to limit lawsuits, says Jamie Court of Arnoldwatch.org.

It would be worth taking a close look at the governor's ties to those corporations. But that could be more difficult now that Schwarzenegger has targeted the Fair Political Practices Commission for savage budget cuts.

No mere mortal could get away with these kinds of things, let alone rise to historic approval ratings.

We voted for an anti-politician. Instead we got a master politician.

He is not Teflon; he is transcendent.

And we are in his spell.
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Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com
Read previous columns at http://www.latimes.com/lopez




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