Capitol Punishment

How Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped worrying and learned to love selling out to special interests

Schwarzenegger is on everyone's lips; even unseen, people are giddy about him, even if it's giddy with bristling hate. Everyone talks about him, everywhere I go.

It wasn't the same with Gray Davis.

Recently termed-out Senate President John Burton holds court in a corner but leaves before I see him. I nearly cry when someone tells me he'd been there. Lovely, foul-mouthed John Burton! Here's the LATimeswhen Burton was termed out from the Senate: "To protest what he considered Republican political attacks on the poor, he once drafted legislation that would have made it a crime to have an income below the poverty level. Another Burton bill would have required that state orphanages serve gruel."

Fuckin' John Burton, man. He's all right.

* * *

Wednesday afternoon, lateish: Tammy, Chops' gorgeous mid-30s barkeep, says, "Well, when the governor was in here Monday night . . ."

"But I was hereMonday night!" I say, outraged.

"Yeah, you were hanging out with Juan and those guys, right?"

"Yeah!"

"Well, he was downstairs."

Chops, it seems, has a downstairs.

Shit.

* * *

You have to understand about Schwarzenegger: with what is by all reports an obsessively focused mind and a fairly middle-of-the-road approach, he could actually be one of the great governors in history, à la Pat Brown—the man who built the UC system and the freeways, who made California the destination for the entire country—and for a minute after his election, it looked like he might.

Sure, he was carried into office with only 48 percent of the vote on some fat lies (the California Republican Party was whipping up the always latent hate for Gray Davis by blaming him for the "energy crisis" when it was Republicans Curt Pringle and Pete Wilson who'd allowed their buddies at Enron to mug us in the first place)—and when his main competitors were Larry Flynt, Tom McClintock, Cruz Bustamante and pint-sized Diff'rentStrokesstar Gary Coleman. And Schwarzenegger's campaign promises were legendary for the speed at which he broke them: not needing to fund-raise from special interests, since he had his own private fortune (he quickly eclipsed Gray Davis, who liked to fund-raise all day and all of the night, like the sad little pudding he was), or his vow to find the real groper just as soon as the election was over and done, or insuring all of California's needy children, or that he'd be able to balance our budget with just a bit of forensic accounting to ferret out waste and fraud—as my colleague Steve Lowery says, as if there's some $12 billion state fund somewhere that buys wigs for pre-op trannies, and once we just find it, poof! The budget's balanced!—before borrowing $8 billion to add to our deficit.

But when he was deal-making with Democrat John Burton—while the Republicans gnashed their teeth in the wilderness—the star-struck Burton was actually giving up quite a bit. It was a masterful bit of triangulation—and bipartisanship—on Schwarzenegger's part.

He changed, of course—or maybe flip-flopped. It was at the Republican National Convention in New York City that Arnold left behind his taste for cigar-fueled deal-making and got a sip of the possibilities of One Party Rule. He seemed carried away by the testosterone wing of the Republican Party—the wing that believes fighting fair is for pussies, that you do what it takes to win at all costs—including shutting down the Miami Dade recount through screaming, pounding intimidation or, as Arnold so famously did, intimidating a bodybuilding opponent by bagging his wife and then calling him up with her still in his bed.

He's always stomped right over his friends—witness his announcement of his run for governor on Leno, next to a publicly humiliated Richard Riordan: Riordan, who had already announced, had gone with him to the taping after Schwarzy had told him his announcement would be his endorsementof Riordan.

Schwarzenegger had called soulfully for a new, bipartisan way of dealing with the Democratic Lege, but after the Republican convention, that was gone in the blink of a roving eye.

All of a sudden anyone who disagreed with him wasn't an honest opponent but a "girly man" (snooze), and Arnold was no longer trying to find a middle way but was going to use his stardom and bully pulpit to push through devastating attacks on the poor, the middle class, small business and the four most respected professions in our state. Still, we did get that refund on our car tax.

* * *

Tuesday morning I put on my chic business attire of mismatched separates and power-walk up to the Capitol. I stop in the governor's office first and ask for Stutzman. Here's Stutzman last time I saw him, not even a month ago maybe, during the Santa Ana leg of the governor's tour of woefully middlebrow eateries while trying to rock his proposals to cut police widows off the state pension plan:

Me:Hey,Stutzman!

Stutzman: Hey! Ha, ha!

Me:IwannacomeuptoSacramentoandseeyouguys!

Stutzman: Yeah, come up and see us!

Me:CanIgetsometimewiththegovernor?

Stutzman: No. But come up and see us!

Me:What,seeyouthroughawindow?

The receptionist gives me Veronica's number; Veronica will set up a coffee with Stutzman.

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