Copyright 2005, San Francisco Chronicle
Far from tied down in the Capitol,
Governor spends much of his time outside Sacramento, according to calendars.
(San Francisco Chronicle 3/17/05) — On Jan. 5, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger presented the Legislature with an ambitious agenda to shake up state government and demanded that lawmakers quickly enact his proposals.
Yet even as Schwarzenegger has alternately accused legislators of stalling his agenda and insisted he wants to negotiate with them, the governor has spent most of his time away from the Capitol.
In the 10 weeks since he threatened to bypass the Legislature and go straight to voters, he has spent just 18 full days in Sacramento, according to a review of daily schedules prepared by the governor’s press office. He has spent seven partial days in the Capitol during that period.
Schwarzenegger first publicly accused Democrats of stalling his agenda in a speech on Jan. 26 — after he had been out of town for the previous eight days, traveling to Washington, D.C., for President Bush’s inauguration and frequently working in Los Angeles.
Today, he is scheduled to tour a Burbank business and gather signatures for ballot initiatives.
For Schwarzenegger, campaigning has always been a large part of governing.
But this year, in proposing an aggressive agenda and almost immediately leaving Sacramento to hold public rallies and raise money for a ballot box battle, a governor who portrayed himself as an outsider is taking that image to a new level.
“He seems to have made a decision this year to go over the heads of the Legislature right from the start,” said Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. “The fact that he has spent so little time in Sacramento is related to the fact that he spent a lot of time drumming up public support for his reforms.”
Schwarzenegger, who has been a globe-trotter since his days as a world- famous bodybuilder, has racked up an extensive travel itinerary since taking office in November 2003. He has visited Europe, Japan and the Middle East, as well as making repeat stops in Ohio, New York and Washington. He has rarely gone more than two months without a visit to a California mall or restaurant for a well-planned — and well-publicized — rally.
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who becomes acting governor every time Schwarzenegger leaves the state, has taken the head job for part or all of 101 days, according to Bustamante’s records. That’s more than three months out of the 16 months Schwarzenegger has been governor.
Aides say Schwarzenegger’s frequent forays outside of Sacramento are exactly what voters want and what they expected when they elected a first-time politician.
“The recall showed that people were sick and tired of how politics and governing were done before,” said Margita Thompson, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary. “Becoming ensconced in the Capitol is not what this governor is about.”
But Democrats complain that Schwarzenegger dropped a complicated set of proposals in the Legislature’s lap in January and has shown more interest in publicity stunts and fund raising than in truly negotiating with lawmakers.
“He is the governor. He needs to engage us,” said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nœ–ez.
The proposals Schwarzenegger is pushing would overhaul the public employee pension system, impose new budget controls, base teachers’ pay on performance rather than tenure and strip lawmakers of their authority to draw political boundaries.
Schwarzenegger met for the first time with legislative leaders this week to discuss the proposals. The meeting came one day before a political action committee formed to promote his proposals at the ballot box announced its full agenda.
The governor has attended at least five fund-raisers for his re-election committee and for the ballot initiative committee in the last three weeks, including three in other states.
The Legislature convened at Schwarzenegger’s request in a special legislative session on Jan. 6, to deal with political, budgetary and education proposals. Schwarzenegger said he preferred working with lawmakers to hash out agreements on areas he has identified as the state’s biggest problems.
He remained in the Capitol for the rest of the week, according to his schedule.
He returned the following Monday for a full day and part of Tuesday, but then departed and did not return to Sacramento for a week. In that time, he traveled to San Diego, spent three days in Los Angeles, including a visit to the La Conchita area surveying damage from mudslides, and went to San Francisco.
In addition to attacking lawmakers for inaction on Jan. 26, he again declared that lawmakers were refusing to cooperate on March 1. After that declaration, he hopped into a Humvee and drove away from the Capitol in a flashy launch to a signature-gathering drive for the initiatives.
He left town three days later for a five-day out-of-state trip to attend a bodybuilding competition in Ohio, visit Bush in Washington and attend fund- raisers in three cities.
The governor’s supporters argue that Schwarzenegger has been available for talks with lawmakers or whomever else whether he was in Sacramento or not.
“Phones work,” said Thompson, who also noted that the governor has plenty of staff who work in Sacramento every day and who are available to talk with legislators.
And Republican lawmakers say Schwarzenegger is accessible.
“When I need to get ahold of him for anything, or his staff, if I need to get him, I can get him,” said Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman. “He’s not AWOL.”
Thompson also noted that the state Senate had convened only 17 times since early January, and the Assembly met 20 times. Schwarzenegger has complained that Democratic lawmakers have failed to provide him with counterproposals to begin negotiations.
Schwarzenegger’s travels are not likely to slow down.
For one thing, Schwarzenegger doesn’t have a home in Sacramento. He stays in a Hyatt across the street from the Capitol when he spends the night in Sacramento.
Cain noted that Schwarzenegger’s out-of-Capitol appearances make sense politically. The governor needs “to whip up political support” to force lawmakers into action, he said.
It worked last year when Schwarzenegger threatened a ballot initiative on workers’ compensation changes, which ultimately led to a deal.
But this year, the governor has been far more aggressive in his fund- raising and in demonizing those who disagree with his agenda — he declared his opponents “evil” in one speech.
“What people admired about him last year was that he wasn’t just doing the Jesse Ventura number, he was doing something more sophisticated,” Cain said. “What we get a sense of this year is that it’s almost exclusively an outside strategy, to roll the Legislature rather than compromise with them.”
He noted that it will probably be “up to voters to decide whether they like it or not.”
By Mark Martin, Christian Berthelsen