Isn't that special?
In a luncheon speech to the Sacramento Press Club today, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke forcefully and often about his favorite political foe: the "special interests" that he asserts control the Legislature and are blocking his agenda for reform. "We all know that this town is run by special interests, but we are going to change all that," he said in declaring he was ready to go to the ballot box to circumvent the Legislature.
Asked at one point to define "special interests," and to differentiate between the interest groups he opposes and the interest groups that support him, he said he is taking on only those "special interests ... running the show."
He compared public employee unions -- generally the groups that are synonomous with "special interests" as he uses the phrase -- to the railroad bosses whose control of the Legislature in the early part of the 20th century led reformist Gov. Hiram Johnson to create the initiative process.
As for the groups that support him, Schwarzenegger said they are not "special interests" by his definition because, "As far as I'm concerned, no one can buy me... I'm taken care of. I cannot be bought."
Democrats believe that if Schwarzenegger follows through on his threat to take his proposed measures to the ballot box and to campaign for them as a populist reformer, they can turn the tables by portraying Schwarzenegger as a tool of the moneyed special interests that have financed his campaigns.
They point to his vetoes last year of a used car buyers' bill of rights, vigorously opposed by the car dealers who have lavished him with campaign contributions; a bill that would have penalized companies that ship jobs offshore, vigorously opposed by the governor's most loyal backers at the Chamber of Commerce; and a bill that would have facilitated importation of low-cost prescription drugs from Canada, vehemently opposed by the governor's supporters in the pharmaceutical industry.
The governor's actions on those bills, said Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer "show that the governor's ability to make decisions may be influenced by his contributions... This governor in one year has raised more special interest money than Gray Davis raised in four."
Schwarzenegger seems to be deaf to such criticism. Just after having railed against special interests, the governor prepared to take questions, noting that he would accept questions only from members of the media and not from others in the audience seated in the back of the banquet room. But he did acknowledge those people in the back with this comment:
"Hopefully there are some people here also who can wait outside and later on they have some money for us so we can pay for these campaigns and for the TV spots and all those things. So feel free."
Not that any of those people with checkbooks handy to comply with the governor's request would constitute a special interest.