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The Arnold Sequel
Schwarzenegger's photo ops can be so splendid, it's a wonder they don't sell popcorn in the lobby. His ambitious reform agenda, though, is losing box-office appeal among California voters
In a combative state of the state speech in January, Schwarzenegger challenged lawmakers to remake some of California's most sacred institutions: from privatizing the pensions of public employees to pegging teacher salaries to performance and restricting tenure, to redrawing the state's congressional districts to make them less secure for incumbents. The challenge was all part of Schwarzenegger's strategy: He knew most Democratic lawmakers would never consider his proposals, allowing him to take his ideas directly to the voters. When legislators missed his deadline of March 1, that was Schwarzenegger's cue to hit the campaign trail. Now, he finds himself battling not only Democrats in the legislature, but also several of the state's most powerful unions on multiple fronts. And even his fellow Republicans in Congress balked at his redistricting plan.
As if that weren't enough, Schwarzenegger picked an unrelated fight last year with a California nurses' union over the state's patient-care ratios. When protesting nurses attempted to interrupt his speech at a women's conference last December, he scoffed that they were "special interests," upset because he had "kicked their butt."
Now, wherever Schwarzenegger travels to promote his reform proposals, he is dogged by an ever-growing pack of women in pastel-colored surgical scrubs
...For now, Schwarzenegger and his aides claim that the sign-waving nurses, firefighters, teachers and other public employees who've become part of his road show are playing according to script. "They are becoming more and more part of the set dressing," Schwarzenegger said recently. "That's fine with me."
At an appearance Wednesday at a drapery factory in Hayward, a blue-collar community across the bay from San Francisco, dozens of union members protested on the street, while inside, Schwarzenegger tried, implausibly, to portray himself before an invited audience of small business owners as the underdog. "They can follow me from here to eternity," Schwarzenegger said of the protestors. "If the special interests push me around, I will push back."
Flanked by young signature gatherers wearing baseball caps emblazoned "Help Arnold," Schwarzenegger couldn't resist hitting yet another populist note. "They have the money, they have the power," he said. "But you have the signatures."
It was a bold claim by any measure, from a man who possesses a personal fortune estimated in the hundreds of millions, one of the most famous faces on the planet, and a planned $50 million political war chest.
But it went unchallenged by the local media.
It's not hard to imagine what could happen when a national labor union steps in to make a commercial featuring, say, Martha Kuhl, a nurse at Oakland Children's Hospital who rushed after her shift in pediatric oncology to the street protest. "I spent my day treating kids with cancer," said Kuhl. "I guess you could call that my special interest."...