Capitol Punishment

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

Veronica will never set up a coffee with Stutzman.

* * *

My work there done, I stop by the offices of Todd Spitzer (R-Anaheim or something), Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim) and Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana). Spitzer's lady tells me I definitelywon't be able to buy him lunch; it's Caucus Day! "Why don't you go ahead and ask him and see what he says?" I say, firm but nice. Peace through strength! Trust but verify! She calls an hour or two later. Definitely no. "Can I take him for a cup of coffee?" I ask. "I'm here till Thursday!" Her voice has an italics-laden edge now. "Hesaid,'No,thankyou.'"

Damn. I want to see the governor? I can't even see ToddSpitzer.

I go hang out in Gil Cedillo's office for the rest of the morning, leisurely reading the newspaper in the office of Dan Savage (no relation to the sex columnist), who is Cedillo's chief of staff, while Cedillo's staffers take one constituent call after another. "How am I?" one staffer says into her phone. "Well, I've been called a bitch and a child molester today, so not too hot."

Cedillo, surprisingly, is againstchild molestation, though you can't blame people for assuming he's not, seeing as he's so communist and all.

I thumb through the lobby copy of TheNationwhile some Concerned Women of America come in to lobby for Bill "I Love My Dead Gay Son!" Morrow's defense-against-fag-marriage bill. (For the record, Bill Morrow's son isn't dead; nor, most likely, does he love him.) They have very thick ankles.

* * *

Tuesday, noon: I get my nails done.

* * *

Tuesday, 1:30ish: I run into Gil Cedillo at the Capitol metal detector.

"Will you have dinner with me tonight?" I ask him in my breathiest, charmingest voice.

His eyes scan for a second as he schedules in his head.

"I would loveto," he answers, all sexy like a communist Al Pacino, once his mental schedule's checked.

Tuesday, 2 or so: Esquire Grill. Fabulous chicken pasta. No governor in sight.

He's kind of like the Great and Powerful Oz, I think, if Dorothy had never actually tried to find him.

* * *

Schwarzenegger's audiences aren't quite as handpicked as the president's: he does actually venture forth in public, in venues where people haven't had to swear a loyalty oath (seriously, at the president's "public" town hall meetings, you have to swear a loyalty oath) to get in—although there was that one nurse who was escorted from a screening of BeCoolthat the governor and his flunkies were attending, despite the fact that she had a ticket, because she was wearing her scrubs.

And true, he never actually enters a place through the front door (his handlers, paranoid and arrogant Pete Wilson people all, know better than to let him get his picture taken in front of screaming and angry PTA moms). But when you see him, it's exciting. His star power was enough at various Republican conventions to get the types of true believers who actually attend—rabidly pro-life/anti-gay/put-prayer-back-everywhere-they-can-squeeze-it—to howl with love despite his social liberalism and refusal to get sucked into the Culture War.

But Schwarzenegger's handlers and advisers, remember, were formerly the handlers and advisers to PeteWilson.Try as they may, they are not Karl Rove, but that's not stopping them from using the classic Rove tactic of hitting the opposition where it's strongest, thus neutralizing what should be its winningest points—see war hero John Kerry losing to an AWOL draft dodger, while the Swift Boat Vets screamed that his Silver Star, Bronze Star V, and threePurple Hearts were falsified, and that he shot himself in his own leg (before shooting a fleeing, naked child in the back) to get out of the country.

John Kerry the war hero becomes John Kerry the (cowardly) war criminal.

And nurses, teachers, cops and firefolk become union tools, while PTA moms become special interests.

So far, it's backfiring: Schwarzenegger's approval ratings have dropped to 40 percent in the face of a $5 million barrage of teachers' union ads featuring pissed-off moms explaining (clearly and concisely, in the most effective political ad I've ever seen) that Schwarzenegger borrowed $2 billion from education and then broke his word and declined to pay it back. This, the mothers explain (not teachers, as they could be written off as—you guessed it!—union tools) shortchanges every classroom by $25,000. That's a lot!

But beating up on nurses and cops isn't the end game, no matter how many times Schwarzenegger brags that he's kicking the nurses' asses: the end game is forcing the unions to spend their money protecting themselves from raids on classrooms and their old-age security, negotiated in good faith back when we believed old people shouldn't have to live on cat food—and then the unions will have nothing left for whatever's next to come down the pike.

The end game is Son of Paycheck Protection, a homegrown OC initiative from one of our more charming Machiavellis, Jim Righeimer, that would have castrated unions by forcing them to hold a vote with their members every time the leadership wanted to contribute to a campaign. So while Schwarzenegger's raised $26 million last year alone from the insurance industry and HMOs and energy companies—like Enron—little folks wouldn't be able to band together to match that kind of money.

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