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How Much From Special Interests?

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The Oakland Tribune
Jul 25, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by Byron Williams

Schwarzenegger also walks, talks with special interests

Is this what we have come to? Did the governor of California actually go to a shopping mall to regurgitate a misogynistic, anti-gay line once used by former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Dana Carvey in the 1980s because he cannot get a budget passed?

"If they don't have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers, and I want them to make the millions of dollars' -- if they don't have the guts, I call them 'girlie men,'" Schwarzenegger shouted at a shopping mall rally.

What about the women who make up approximately 25 percent of the Legislature? Are they "girlie men" as well? Is the "girlie men" critique bipartisan, or can we assume the mention of unions and trial lawyers makes it specific to the Democrats?

During the recall election, the governor promised he would go to Sacramento and "make decisions that are the wisest decision for the people of California and not what is best for the special interest."

Using the governor's archaic standard, every elected official in Sacramento could qualify as "girlie men," including the governor.

I did not have the opportunity to speak with the governor directly, thus I am unclear if his definition of special interests is limited to unions and trial lawyers. I did, however, seek the counsel of the American Heritage College Dictionary, which defines special interest in a somewhat broader context: "A person, a group or an organization attempting to influence legislators in favor of one particular interest or issue."

As it has been previously reported the governor has received $54,000 from the mortgage firm Ameriquest. Unless the check was specifically earmarked for "good government," Ameriquest could qualify as a special interest.

Perhaps the governor's retort to such charges is that his taking money does not translate into his being beholden. I was a lobbyist before I was a columnist, and I never gave money without some expectation, if only to have the access to make my case.

In 2004 the governor has had several fundraisers that could be classified as special interest. On March 5, Leslie Wexner, chairman of The Limited, Inc., hosted a gathering for the governor with the donations ranging between $2,500 and $25,000.

IN February, at an NBA game between the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs at Arco Arena, Joe and Gavin Maloof, owners of the Sacramento Kings, hosted the governor in their suite. For a donation of $25,000, one could watch the game with the governor, and for $100,000 a private dinner was thrown in. Later that month, at the home of Robert Wood Johnson IV, Johnson Johnson heir and owner of the New York Jets, the reported donation levels ranged from $50,000 to $500,000 for a private dinner with Schwarzenegger.

Do the aforementioned examples indicate that the governor also feeds at the trough of special interests that he publicly disavows? The little-used political axiom suggests: "If it walks like a special interest, quacks like a special interest, it's a special interest."

Those types of dollar figures provide a few affluent individuals with the kind of access that is well beyond the scope of the majority of attendees at the recent shopping mall rally.

The governor's comments leave him with the stain of disingenuousness and arrogance. "Their approval rating is in the 30s. My approval rating is in the 70s," Schwarzenegger proudly said of the Democratic-controlled Legislature. The governor is actually at 57 percent approval, according to the most recent poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute.

But I have two cautionary pieces of advice for the governor. First, "girlie men" comments may make for great headlines in the short term but will ultimately render him to appear no different than the elected officials he claims are obstructionist.

Second, I wouldn't make too much of the current approval ratings. I once knew a man whose poll numbers went from "Hosanna, Hosanna" to "Crucify him, Crucify him" in a week's time.
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Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist.
E-mail him at byron@byron-speaks.com or leave a message at (510) 208-6417.




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