Photo by Tenaya Hills"It's great to be back in San Diego!" the Governator announced to a crowd of cameras, thrilling everyday volk inside the Santa Ana Red Robin last Thursday. Just two days earlier, Schwarzenegger had appeared at a Sacramento Applebee's. The governor's nonstop tour of woefully middlebrow Red County eateries rocked on.
Outside, behind police tape, two women in their early-20s chanted, "We want reform!"—Arnold's purpose in his tour among the common man was to get signatures for redistricting reform and the Fair and Responsible Retirement Act, which, you know, reforms stuff, and to talk up his yet-to-be-printed Put Our Kids First initiative. The young women were joined by maybe a dozen more pro-Schwarzenegger folk, all with preprinted signs helpfully distributed by the governor's advance team. But they were outgunned many times over by several dozen pissed-off parents, teachers and firefolk.
"They're closing two schools in Huntington Beach!" one woman shouted. An LA firefighter sidled over. "The governor's [pension] proposal eliminates completely all benefits for the families of dead and disabled firefighters," said Will Pryor, second VP of Fire Fighters Local 1014. "Instead of receiving a lifetime annuity, they get only the proceeds from a 401k. For a two-year firefighter, that averages to $30,000. Total."
Another mother joined in. "Arnold spends more than $20,000 a year per child for his children to go to private school," she said. "His children's school in Santa Monica has a $23 million budget for 1,100 kids. He has no idea what his cuts mean in the real world!"
Before the governor arrived, we chatted outside in the sunshine with Jean Pasco of the LATimesand Norberto Santana from TheOrangeCountyRegister,two reporters in the biggest crowd of reporters we've seen in OC outside the Doubletree bar. Pasco and Santana assumed Schwarzenegger would pass by the crowd on either his arrival or departure, but there's no way the governor's advance team—or Paulette, the steel magnolia from his LA office—would ever let him be photographed in front of protesting PTA moms. He came and went via the kitchen. Come on, Pasco. You know operatives better than that.
Inside, we cornered Schwarzenegger's spokesman, Rob Stutzman, whom we hadn't seen since the closing days of the first Simon campaign and who was standing mere feet from a handsome, brush-cut Aryan in a shirt that read, "Don't Be A Girly [sic] Man: Vote Republican." Also girly? Apologizing, considering the needs of others in addition to the needs of oneself, and only groping people when they want you to.
Stutzman, greeting Pasco, was the smilingest and most relaxed we've ever seen him, even after we punched him. In one of the black paramilitary jackets favored by all the governor's team and even the governor himself (with natty black-leather piping!), he explained a quote that appeared in that day's LATimesin which Stutzman had said, referring to the teacher- and nurse-bashing in which Schwarzenegger's been engaging, that everyone understands the difference between teachers in the classroom (and nurses in hospital rooms) and their unions. I asked him to help me out with that difference because I don't understand it at all.
"Well, they have union fees taken from their paychecks without their consent," Stutzman said. "So lots of teachers don't like the union." Did he have numbers on how many teachers didn't like the union? "No. The governor is proposing a merit-based pay system." He was referring to a system teachers reflexively hate, worrying they'll be penalized for the learning problems of impoverished students, while how he'll pay for it is another question, as he's already axed $2 billion from public schools in the coming year's budget and failed to meet the legal requirements of Proposition 98, mandating since 1988 that schools receive at least 40 percent of state spending each year.
"Not all teachers hate merit pay," Stutzman insisted. "Our education coalition has teachers, so teachers do support it. The school board president in Fresno is [in the coalition], and lots of leaders of charter schools." What's the coalition called?
"I don't know if the coalition has a name," Stutzman said. "But Jeff Randall of Randall Communications is the contact."
A call to Randall Communications reveals that the coalition is called "Governor Schwarzenegger's Coalition for Education Reform" and is entirely separate from the Healthy Forests-esque "Put Our Kids First" Initiative, which hasn't even been printed yet but is already being vigorously denounced by teachers and principals throughout the state, including drawing concerns from Santa Ana's conservative superintendent, Al Mijares. Put Our Kids First is being pushed by Citizens to Save California, whose board members don't include a single educator but do include presidents of the California Business Roundtable, California Taxpayers Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which made its bones by breaking the back of the (then-) nationally envied California public-school system with Proposition 13.
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But on that sunny Thursday afternoon, even after the governor said his adieuxfrom the kitchen door, no one wanted to leave; the circus atmosphere outside (one crowd fave in a Schwarzenegger mask held a sign that read, "True Liar") was electric, the weather balmy, and the people kinda good-looking (and Aryan).
The governor can put on a great glad-handing show—even the protesters who were denied the glow of his presence didn't want to leave. But backstage, behind that brilliant smile, it's always children (disabled or non-), old blind folks and puppies (literally puppies) who feel his shoe in their ass.
We hear that train a-coming.