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A Tale of Two Governors

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, December 12, 2011

One is a longtime politician.  The other, a Hollywood star.  But it didn't take long for Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger to conclude that their common path to achieving their policy goals was to bypass the state legislature and use California's initiative process.  Today, we look at the similarities - and differences - in the two governors' early roads to the ballot box.

The Hollywood Bodybuilder

This is a tale of two California governors.  One began his initiative campaign with an open letter on his website.  The other…

Schwarzenegger: "Hi, how are you?"
Diner #1: "Hi Arnold!"
Schwarzenegger: "Hello, good to see you.  How was the lunch?"
Diner #2: "Pretty good. I hear you're buying the next round though."
Schwarzenegger: "Yes, exactly.  What are you drinking?  It's on me, it's on me."

Stutzman: "We rolled out big and bold."

Rob Stutzman was Arnold Schwarzenegger's communications director on March 1st, 2005.

Stutzman: "The governor pushed back from the table, so to speak, inside the Capitol, and said I'm going to the people.  And walked outside and got in a Hummer and drove about 3-4 miles north here in Sacramento out to the suburbs, to an Applebee's, where we began to gather signatures."

Schwarzenegger: "Thank you very much for reading that and for putting the signature down, okay?"

The Jesuit Seminarian
Jerry Brown, on the other hand, isn't saying much about his initiative campaign yet.  Here he is leaving a recent Capitol hearing on pensions:

Brown: "We have to do one problem each day."

… and that day, Brown said, was Pension Day.  His political advisor, Steve Glazer, says the governor doesn't do high-profile events just for the sake of being high-profile.

Glazer: "There is no rush to get into the campaign.  We're taking these things one step at a time. And we thought it was appropriate to take that first step in the low-key way in which we did."

Gridlock vs. Will and Charisma

It's hard to find more opposite backgrounds than a bodybuilder and a Jesuit seminarian.  Politically, they had very different goals.  Republican Schwarzenegger backed four initiatives: a spending cap, stronger teacher tenure requirements, limits on political contributions from unions and redistricting reform.  Democrat Brown is pushing for just one measure, to raise the sales and income taxes.

O'Connor: "These two governors are very interesting to compare, because outwardly, they're very different."

But, says longtime political watcher and retired Sacramento State communications professor Barbara O'Connor:

O'Connor: "Both of them thought they could overcome with their sheer power of will and charisma - and learned very quickly that the gridlock in Sacramento is systemic and they couldn't do it."

Just listen to their messages as they unveiled their campaigns.  In Brown's open letter this month, he wrote: "I am going directly to the voters because I don't want to get bogged down in partisan gridlock as happened this year. The stakes are too high."  As for Schwarzenegger in 2005:

Schwarzenegger: "With the help of the people in California here, we can really create the true reforms that we really need - because the politicians just can't do it."

Can Brown Succeed Where Schwarzenegger Failed?

Schwarzenegger's four reform efforts fell flat with voters, under a heavy onslaught from unions and Democrats.  Brown's tax increases will face heavy pressure not just from conservative anti-tax groups but possibly from several other tax proposals on next year's ballot.  Still, Schwarzenegger advisor Rob Stutzman says Brown's initiative has a chance.

Stutzman: "What Brown is missing is that one reform - and I think it only would take one.  One reform that actually alienates the unions a little bit, isn't quite enough for the Republicans but really stakes himself out to this centrist, common-sense, I'm not beholden to special interests, we're gonna do this for the good of the state type of reform."

And Brown advisor Steve Glazer says there's plenty to be learned from Schwarzenegger's failure.

Glazer: "We've tried to take the lessons from the past, build a broad coalition and make sure we tee up quite clearly to the voters what's at stake."

Still, California voters have repeatedly rejected statewide tax increases … so this governor could wind up following the steps of his predecessor a bit farther than he'd like.
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