Democrats’ deals with governor a blow to Angelides
SACRAMENTO (AP) – Although it’s an election year, Democrats in the Legislature are getting along with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger like never before.
This week, the two sides made deals to raise the state’s minimum wage and create a prescription drug discount program. The governor also is pursuing a deal on a Democratic proposal to reduce the greenhouse gases associated with global warming.
The issues help Schwarzenegger appeal to the moderate voters who dominate the state, while denying his Democratic rival, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, avenues of attack.
Democratic legislators, in turn, are trying to get what they can from Schwarzenegger while he is in a bargaining mood. But in doing so, they are signaling they do not believe Angelides will be elected in November.
“Their interest and desire to pursue these subjects is an indication of how strong a campaign they think Angelides is running,” said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who is not affiliated with the Angelides campaign.
The bipartisan bonhomie was on display this week when Schwarzenegger appeared with the two Democratic leaders of the Legislature, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez of Los Angeles, to announce a deal to raise the minimum wage to $8 an hour over two years.
“I’m here just because I could never get that many cameras,” Perata joked, referring to the media crush that Schwarzenegger routinely creates. “The cynics have wondered why we were doing this in an election year, and I remind people that Fabian and I are termed out in two years and $8 an hour sounds pretty damned good to us.”
Democrats have been playing ball with Schwarzenegger since they passed a $37.3 billion infrastructure bond package in May that the governor had sought, in part to change the subject from last year’s divisive special election. The Democratic leaders say they will campaign with the governor to pass the bond measures – for transportation, levee repairs, school buildings and affordable housing – in November.
In June, lawmakers passed a budget in time for the start of the new fiscal year, sparing Schwarzenegger the embarrassment of not being able to pay the state’s bills.
To make the minimum wage deal happen, Democrats gave up their demand that it rise automatically each year with inflation. Schwarzenegger also agreed to raise it by $1.25, instead of the $1 he had previously wanted.
But on the prescription drug deal, it was the governor who did the biggest turnaround. He agreed to impose sanctions on drug companies that do not offer discounts to people who otherwise have to pay full retail price, a position he flatly rejected two years ago.
Democrats eagerly took him up on it, despite what it meant for their own candidate. “For Democrats, if you’re here to do public policy and the governor is offering a deal, you have to take a look at it,” said Assemblyman Dario Frommer, D-Los Angeles, who sponsored a drug discount bill the governor had opposed.
But by compromising in such a way, Schwarzenegger leaves himself open to the charge that he is flip-flopping to win support beyond his Republican base, which makes up just 38 percent of the electorate.
“He’s absolutely willing to prostitute himself on anything,” said Angelides adviser Bill Carrick. “How humiliating it must be to be a Republican in this state.”
Margita Thompson, the governor’s press secretary, said Schwarzenegger was influenced only by the improved economy.
“The governor has been consistent in fighting to bring affordability of health care to consumers,” she said. “And now that he’s gotten the budget on a better footing, we can sustain an increase in the minimum wage, ensuring that workers share in the economic expansion.”
Pollster Mark Baldassare said Democrats would lose credibility if they refused to strike accords with the governor on issues that are important to their constituencies.
“Global warming, raising the minimum wage – these are pretty popular things in California right now,” said Baldassare, who conducts polling for the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.
But, he said, handing the governor victories on key Democratic issues can’t help but hurt Angelides.
“It takes away one of the most potent messages for a Democratic candidate, which is Republicans don’t care about working people and the environment,” he said.