Watching the opening episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” on Jan. 2 brought back memories of another political outsider who won public office running for the first time with a message of reform.
That person, of course, is Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was inaugurated as California’s 38th governor 14 years ago this month. Like Donald J. Trump, he was a businessman built on his name as a brand, a media celebrity and a self-proclaimed master negotiator. Today, he sits at the head of the “Apprentice” table and shares an executive producer credit with the president-elect.
It’s far too early — and far too easy — to make predictions about the prospective Trump administration that might or might not be true. Rather, it might be useful to take a step back and consider a few of the hallmarks of the Schwarzenegger era and keep them in mind as the Trump era begins.
• Deal making versus transparency. There’s no doubt that Schwarzenegger brought a degree of personal swagger to the endless give and take of California’s budget process. Deals were struck that sometimes worked, notably in the area of worker’s comp reform and some areas of infrastructure spending. But the process was often shrouded in mystery and not always to the public’s benefit.
• Image is everything. There’s no doubt that California’s boom in tourism was in part due to Schwarzenegger’s personal interest in promoting the state and he played a big role in creating a permanent Visit California campaign. He also embraced climate change as a political issue as well as an environmental issue, burnishing the state’s green credentials.
• Fiscal discipline is tough. Schwarzenegger rolled into Sacramento with promises to roll back the hated car tax and find billions in misappropriated funds. He rolled back the car tax and put a permanent hole in the state budget; the missing billions never really turned up. Meanwhile, there were a lot of smoke and mirrors maneuvers to balance the budget but California was ill prepared for the 2008 recession.
• You can’t control what you can’t control. Schwarzenegger easily won re-election in 2006 but the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession dealt his political fortunes a blow from which they never recovered. Schwarzenegger left office in 2011 with ratings almost as low as Gray Davis, the man he replaced with a stunning win in a recall election.
Central Coast clout
We’re pleased to see the Trump administration taking a close look at former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado as a potential candidate for agriculture secretary.
A small business owner and former Santa Maria City Councilman, Maldonado knows issues facing California agriculture and its global reach. He is reviled on the far right for some of his compromise votes during his time in Sacramento but he knows how to reach across the aisle to get things done.
At press time, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and Maldonado were viewed by Bloomberg and CNN respectively as Trump’s top picks.
Perdue is a commodities guy with a lot of financial expertise. Maldonado is an actual farmer who owns a vineyard and whose parents were farmworkers. His family business took a big step forward as a strawberry packing firm when it received an SBA-guaranteed loan for a storage locker.
We’d respectfully submit that Maldonado, an actual farmer, is the better pick. And in an area that seldom sees a national office holder, we’d claim both secretary of labor nominee Andy Puzder, a longtime Santa Barbara area resident, and Maldonado, whose plain talk and practical wisdom have helped put Santa Maria on the political map.