The Washington Post

Schwarzene­gger’s Post-Partisansh­ip in Peril?

- David S. Broder davidbrode­r@washpost.com

SACRAMENTO — In the heat of Central Valley, with midday temperatur­es over 100 degrees, Democratic legislator­s are preparing to test their working partnershi­p with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzene­gger in the ultimate crucible by asking voters to relax the limits on their time in office.

They hope that by joining forces with the governor on a wide range of big issues, they will gain enough credit that their constituen­ts will let them stay in office beyond the strict time imposed by a 1990 term-limits initiative.

But before they take the new limits to the polls in an initiative planned for next February’s presidenti­al primary, the legislatur­e and governor must agree on a redistrict­ing reform that will take line-drawing out of politics and put it in the hands of a nonpartisa­n commission. Schwarzene­gger has made approval of the redistrict­ing reform the condition for his supporting the term-limits initiative.

And that is where it gets complicate­d for the Democrats. Schwarzene­gger wants the proposed redistrict­ing commission to have authority to revise congressio­nal lines, as well as legislativ­e. That prospect alarms the powerful California contingent in Washington, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Comfortabl­e in the seats they hold under a five-year-old insiders’ deal that locked in both parties’ incumbents, these members of Congress are threatenin­g to raise millions to fight any redistrict­ing reform that includes them.

The looming political impasse tests the partnershi­p that has grown up this past year between Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, a liberal Democrat, and Schwarzene­gger. Núñez and his fellow Democrats treated Schwarzene­gger with contempt when the former bodybuilde­r and Hollywood star showed up in Sacramento as the surprise winner of the recall election against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Schwarzene­gger famously derided them as “girlie men,” but when he tried to skip the legislatur­e and pass the heart of his program by calling a special election on four sweeping voter initiative­s, he met with complete failure.

After that, a chastened Schwarzene­gger reached out to Núñez and Senate leader Don Perata, inviting them into his smoking tent in the Capitol courtyard and cutting deals on big bills.

The turnabout revived Schwarzene­gger, setting the stage for his easy reelection last November, and boosted the even lower ratings suffered by the legislatur­e. And now what he calls “postpartis­an” politics has become the dominant culture in this capital — a shiny contrast to the continuing political warfare of Washington.

Last year, for the first time since 2000, the budget was signed by the June deadline set in the state constituti­on. Last week the legislatur­e’s deadline passed with the spending plan still in dispute, but negotiatio­ns are nearing an end. Plans are ready for a second round of infrastruc­ture bonds, following the approval of major transporta­tion and water bonds last year and a $3 billion state investment in stem cell research.

This year, Schwarzene­gger has signed landmark legislatio­n to satisfy a court order to expand prison facilities and has gained authority for limits on carbon emissions from cars and trucks that go beyond anything enforced elsewhere in America, making California a model in the battle against greenhouse gases.

The governor’s bold proposal in January to provide health insurance for every family in California has run into a buzz saw of opposition from hospitals, doctors and businesses — all of whom would be required to help finance the coverage. But Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly have responded with major health-care bills of their own. Núñez is backing a version that he says would mean coverage for seven out of 10 uninsured California­ns.

Before the session ends in August, chances are that some significan­t progress will have been made on that front. The hope is that this will set the stage for a vote Feb. 5 on a termlimits initiative, for which the signature-gathering is almost complete. The current limits — three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate — have produced such rapid turnover that key committees have been headed by freshmen with little knowledge of the issues they are handling.

The proposal that will go to voters would limit a member to 12 years’ total service but allow him or her to do all of it in one chamber. If the proposal is approved in February, many term-limited members will be able to file for reelection in the June state primary, with good prospects of continuing their service.

But the dispute on including the congressio­nal delegation in the redistrict­ing reform could spoil the picture — a visitation of Washington’s partisan politics that the California legislatur­e and Schwarzene­gger would like to keep 3,000 miles away from their happy home.

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