2005 was a rough year for Governor Schwarzenegger, but he’s never far from a joke— He made one last week at his own expense about his recent motorcycle accident and the perils of driving down the center.
“I knew if I would turn left that the Republicans would get mad and I knew if I turned right my wife would get mad so I just crashed right into the car. This is the safer thing to do.”
But moving toward the center is what some say appears to be the Governor’s new tactic, abandoning the rhetoric of last year when he took on firefighters, teachers and nurses in a bruising special election fight and lost. Republican consultant Dan Schnur says that battle took its toll and a correction is in order.
“In order to get re-elected in November, Schwarzenegger has to find a way to convince those swing voters who supported him the recall election in 2003 but opposed him in the special election last year to come back home, so he’s clearly reaching out very aggressively to the center of the political spectrum.”
And so Schwarzenegger has emerged with plans to spend money on infrastructure projects—fixing roads and levees, raising the minimum wage and increasing some funds to education, including plans to roll back tuition fee hikes that sent Democrats through the roof. The state Senate’s top Democrat, Don Perata says despite this year’s inevitable ultimate focus on election year politics, he senses an improved tone over last year’s ballot box fight.
“This year that’s behind us, the Governor has said I’ve learned my lesson, I’ll work with the legislature that’s what the people want. So I’m very, very optimistic.”
But whether the Governor’s goals can be achieved in an election year is what remains to be seen. Anything that costs money will require votes from Republican lawmakers—including his plans to pay for public works improvements with bonds. Increasing debt makes some lawmakers nervous, others have given a thumbs-down to his idea to raise the minimum wage by a dollar over two years. GOP Assemblyman Ray Haynes says while the Governor may be heading down the middle it won’t work to ignore the right.
“The Governor has to pay attention to his own re-election prospects. I’m sure that what he thinks what he’s doing is going to get himself re-elected, my only political advice through the whole process is just remember who got you here and it wasn’t any of the Democrats he seems to be catering to right now.”
Schwarzenegger insists his political outlook has not changed…. But a recent poll shows a shift in voters’ moods. The Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University shows his approval rating has edged up a few points, to forty-percent, from 36-percent in September, with more favor noted from Democrats and independents-- indicating it’s possible that driving down the center may help Schwarzenegger avoid another political crash.