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Schwarzenegger May Have Short Honeymoon - 2003-11-18

The mood was buoyant in Sacramento as California's new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, took office Monday. But some analysts say the political honeymoon may be short for the actor-politician, who must build a relationship with a suspicious legislature.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, faces a state assembly and senate dominated by Democrats. Even Democrat Gray Davis, the outgoing governor who was removed in a recall election, had trouble breaking the gridlock as the state plunged more deeply into a fiscal crisis.

Joel Fox, a policy consultant for the Schwarzenegger campaign, says the new governor's election was a rebellion by voters. "People were frustrated with the direction of the state of California. They wanted change, and they wanted someone who would clean up the economic mess, give us some leadership, some direction," he says. "And that's what they're going to get, I believe, with the new governor."

Both sides agree that California's problems include a polarized legislature, a sluggish economy that has reduced state income, and spending that is far higher than revenues.

Democrat Joe Cerrell, a longtime political strategist, sees the election of the new governor in a less positive light, as an act of desperation by voters angry at Governor Davis. "The factors that came together were a governor who was disliked by a great number of people because they had beaten up on him over his budget, and a very popular candidate in the person of Arnold Schwarzenegger," says Mr. Cerrell. "I don't want to be disrespectful, they weren't voting for Arnold Schwarzenegger; they were voting for the Terminator."

After the former star of the Terminator movies took the oath of office, he admitted that his election was an act of faith by voters.

Democratic legislator Mark Ridley-Thomas is not one of the faithful. A former Los Angeles city councilman, he now serves in the state assembly, representing a section of the city with a large minority population. He says the new governor will soon learn that Sacramento is very a different place from the rest of the state.

"There are a series of constraints, restraints, under which we operate, checks and balances, which are just not the case in the private sector," says Mr. Ridely-Thomas. "The magnifying glass or the microscope is pretty intense."

The new governor must be part politician and part psychologist, says analyst Roderick Kiewiet, a political scientist at the California Institute of Technology. He says surveys show that voters often engage in wishful thinking. "One of the findings that you see in almost any survey you're going to do is if you ask people a generic question -- is government too big? are taxes too high? -- they will say yes," he says. "But when you go to individual expenditure items like, are we spending too much or not enough on police and fire? They'll say, better spend more on police and fire." He says voters respond the same way regarding education and other services.

Republican strategist Alan Hoffenblum says that in the short term, Sacramento Democrats will try to get along with the popular new governor because, otherwise, they may be blamed for gridlock. "These Democrats in Sacramento realize that," he says. "So there's going to be a lot of pressure to come together on some of these serious problems."

Political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California says the new celebrity-governor is bringing a spotlight to Sacramento, and that may help him. "I think in the short run Schwarzenegger has a very good opportunity to get some consensus out of Sacramento because he did win big. He will have the international media watching his steps, and the legislators are sharp enough to pick up on that, and they don't want to be portrayed as the villain," says Ms. Jeffe. "When things get more specific, when the budget is issued, then we may see this kind of cooperation break down, particularly if the new governor is cutting the social programs that are so critical to the Democratic legislators."

Ms. Jeffe says that could mark the end of the honeymoon.