Jewish World Review Feb. 15, 2005/ 6 Adar I, 5765

Wesley Pruden

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Breaking bones with the Terminator | LOS ANGELES — The Terminator is so hot that a casual observer might think he's running for president. But since he can't do that unless the Constitution is amended (unlikely), the only conclusion left is that he just wants to be more than a celebrity in California.

This makes him all but unique here in the land of (rain and) the sun, and Arnold Schwarzenegger seems determined to be the governor that Californians remember.

He has set out to enact four reforms that are radical in a place that was once the cutting edge not only of the continent, but of the nation's culture, political and otherwise. That was before calcification set in and California became merely the biggest of the blue states.

The probable first step will be obtaining 600,000 names on petitions for a referendum on the most crucial of the four reforms, to eliminate gerrymandering the 173 legislative and congressional districts. The current system is an incumbent-protection scam, fiercely protected by Republican and Democrat alike. And why not? In November, every single incumbent won.

Asked the governor the other day in his State of the State address: "What kind of democracy is that?"

The governor has the immigrant's appreciation of democracy, and the immigrant's outrage that everyone doesn't share his uncomplicated belief that the system should work the way the Constitution and the nation's traditions say it ought to work. Such immigrants don't do nuance.

After the redistricting reforms are safely in place, he wants to establish merit pay for public-school teachers, tighten the tenure scam that has made college faculties the last refuge of academic incompetents, zealots and other scoundrels; convert state-employee pensions into something like 401(k) schemes, and bestow authority on the governor to put together a state budget if the legislature can't.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, who has made going over the heads of California officeholders an art form, will raise the money elsewhere to assure passage of his reforms. He figures he needs $50 million, because enacting radical ideas will require breaking more bones and smashing more knees (the movie Terminator's specialty) than the recall election. Mr. Schwarzenegger doesn't do bones and knees in real life — he doesn't even like being called the Terminator — but it's clear that he still thinks that way.

Democrats in Sacramento, who are having trouble adjusting to the new reality in the way that Democrats in Washington are having trouble adjusting to life in George W. Bush's universe, are fighting in retreat. One Democratic group complains that "Citizens to Save California," which promotes the reforms, is really just a Schwarzenegger campaign organ and should be subject to campaign-finance restrictions. A Democratic legislator is writing the inevitable legislation to set limits on how much the committee can raise.

"As you know," the governor said in a radio interview the other day, "the most important thing is to communicate with the people, and the only way you can do this is through radio ads and television ads and to do interviews and go to the shopping malls. But when you put TV spots on, it costs money."

Like George W., he is willing to spend capital. The legislature could put the reforms on the ballot, making the difficult and expensive citizens initiative unnecessary, and the governor says he expects the legislature to do that. But he reminds everyone that he has more juice with the public than the Legislature does, noting that the latest polls put his favorability ratings in the 60s. "The poor little guys there," he says, his voice dripping with mock pity, "they're in the 30s."

He was even more dismissive in a speech over the weekend to the annual convention of the California Republican Party. He called the Democrats, who control the Legislature, "spending addicts" who have been taking "sleeping pills" while the state slides toward disaster. He calls the Legislature the source of "evil."

He even risks broken bones at home, making jokes at the expense of the family of his wife, Maria Shriver. He was pleased that the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl: "It's great to see a New England dynasty that is not the Kennedys."

Who but the Terminator would attempt to get away with that?

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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