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Federations Magazine Article
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The Governator and the Bear Flag Revolution

The Governator and the Bear Flag Revolution BY Andrew McIntosh

Frustrated by years of federal
government inaction on key
issues of concern to his state’s
37 million residents, California
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has
tackled some of the most important
problems himself, sidestepping a
Washington preoccupied with war and
international affairs.
In doing so, the populist Schwarzenegger
has transformed himself from the
Hollywood millionaire and big-screen
action hero – The Terminator – into a
kinder, more ambitious, national political
action figure –The Governator – by
portraying himself as a leader of a nationstate
that has become a global player in
its own right.
Sporting his trademark silk ties, wide
smile and sculpted Hollywood good
looks, the politically savvy Schwarzenegger,
now in his second term, has
undertaken what University of Southern
California professor Jonathan Taplin has
dubbed the “Bear Flag Revolution.” The
Bear Flag image comes from the mighty
grizzly that stands at the centre of the
handsome white, red and brown
California state flag, commemorating the
short-lived California Republic that preceded
California’s annexation by the
United States in 1850.
Centralizers Out!
“Something important is happening in
California,” Taplin argued in a recent
paper. “A profound experiment in federalism,
led by a Republican Governor and
a Democratic legislature, is taking shape,
and it is the first break with an American
political culture that has been centralizing
power in Washington since 1932.”
“What the Governor and many in our
state have concluded is that the only way
forward for the American republic is a
radical form of devolution,” Taplin added.
While the idea of returning more
power to U.S. states and cities has been
around for years, Schwarzenegger is the
fledgling movement’s new national
champion because he is “openly experimenting
with the New Federalism.”
Experimenting perhaps, but it was
another Hollywood actor turned
Republican politician, the late president
Ronald Reagan, who devoted part of his
1983 State of the Union address to a
sweeping proposal to devolve vast federal
powers back to the states and cities
in the United States.
Two decades later, the Bush administration
now appears taken aback by the
growing consequences of Reagan’s legacy,
according to Dennis Herrera, the
San Francisco City Attorney who wrote a
commentary on New Federalism in The
San Francisco Chronicle.
By shifting some powers away from the
federal government or simply by doing
nothing at all, Congress has paved the way
for states like California, and some of its
larger cities, to launch and achieve dramatic policy and regulatory innovations
on issues previously considered ill-suited
for state initiative, Herrera argued.
Action on Climate Change
Since taking power in 2003, Schwarzenegger
and his administration, working
with like-minded Democratic senators
and assemblymen, have responded to
the long list of growing concerns of progressive
Californians and businesses
about the lack of progress on major state,
national and international issues.
The governor has attacked air pollution
and global warming by passing state laws
to curb automobile and carbon dioxide
emission levels, working with and earning
praise from British Prime Minister Tony
Blair. He also took the unusual step of issuing
a statement to praise Gordon Campbell,
premier of British Columbia, a Canadian
province, after his Liberal government
also adopted aggressive policies to control
climate change.
For Schwarzenegger, the years of
neglect of air pollution and air quality
standards were no longer acceptable to
Californians and their families and
action was required. Why?
“Pollution decreases our productivity
and increases our health care costs,” he
told state legislators and taxpayers last
year. “When one in six children in the
Central Valley goes to school with an
inhaler, it is time to consider clean air as
part of our critical infrastructure. We
have the technology to clean our air. So I
say build it.”
Yet Schwarzenegger’s credentials as an
environmental champion have been
questioned by critics who say his longterm
anti-global-warming efforts require
little public sacrifice and belie his unfavourable
short-term environmental
record. He has supported building new
dams; opposed a ballot initiative to
increase oil extraction taxes to fund alternative
energy research and development;
sacked the board of a state agency that
opposed developers’ plans to build new
homes near unsafe levees; and slashed
state support for public transit while cutting
spending on a high-speed rail project.
Undeniably, he has aggressively promoted
alternative energy-saving
programs like solar power, green building
standards and hydrogen fuels, while
backing stem cell research and raising
billions of dollars to finance it and promote
its benefits.
After initially refusing to do so,
Schwarzenegger even decided to raise
the state’s minimum wage to well above
the federal standard, saying it’s time the
millions of lowest paid workers in
California share in the state’s prosperity.
The Governor did all this while often
clashing with the neoconservative
agenda of the Bush administration in
Washington and risking the wrath of
many in the business community.
As a Republican Governor in a state
where union-backed Democrats control
majorities in both the state assembly and
senate, Schwarzenegger has to walk a
fine line during policy or regulatory
debates. He has forged close working and
personal relationships with top Democrats,
including Assembly Speaker Fabian
Nunez, a Democrat from the Los Angeles
area. The pair grew so close, in fact, that
Schwarzenegger has been criticized by
members of his own Republican caucus
for pandering to Nunez. Such criticism
increased after the Governor hired as his
new chief of staff Susan Kennedy, a longtime
Democrat and former aide to
Schwarzenegger’s Democratic predecessor,
Gray Davis.
California’s Foreign Policy
With the aggressive United States military
posture of President George W. Bush
leading to a rise in anti-
Americanism around the
world, the Governor distanced
himself, his
administration and
California business from
the Bush doctrine. The
reason: if you hate
America, it’s easy to reject
its entertainment, technology
and software
exports, too.
To that end, he has
gone on trade missions
to China, Israel, Japan,
Mexico and recently to
Canada, where his plan
was to “focus on promoting California
trade and tourism, discuss ways of reducing
the effects of climate change while
boosting economic growth and look at
creative ways to finance infrastructure.”
With much of the knowledge and
entertainment industries based in
Hollywood and Silicon Valley in
California, it comes as no surprise that
Schwarzenegger has toiled hard to reposition
California as a “prosperous,
peaceful Golden state.” California has
become the world’s eighth largest economy,
a fair trading partner and a
welcome port for all immigrants, with
world class technology skills, and a state
that can shape national standards.
“Although … the auto, oil and banking
industries have joined with the Bush
administration to sue for relief from the
California standards, to date none of the
courts has struck down any of the state
laws,” Taplin said.
Perhaps Schwarzenegger’s boldest and
bravest effort so far was launched this year
when he tackled the monumental health
care mess in California, where 6.5 million
low-income families and illegal immigrants
have no health insurance at all.
Schwarzenegger promised a madein-
California solution that will “set the
standard for the rest of the nation.”
Why would he take on such a mammoth
task? The Governor argued that
federal inaction allowed the situation in
his state to become financially and
socially untenable. For example, medical
bills are the leading cause of personal
bankruptcies in the Golden State.
Citizens with health care insurance
and the companies that employ them
also pay a whopping $14.7 billion worth
of hidden taxes each year to cover and
care for those who are uninsured. One
Los Angeles hospital that Schwarzenegger
visited was stuck with $60 million worth
of unpaid consumer bills for visits handled
by its emergency service.
Following California’s Lead
At least eight other state governors have
embarked on efforts to restructure their
own health care systems this year.
Colorado Governor Bill Ritter has
pledged a program to provide universal
access to health care by 2010. South
Dakota Governor Mike Rounds unveiled a
recommendation to raise the age for
dependants covered by family health
insurance plans to 30, whether or not they
attend school. And New York Governor
Elliot Spitzer proposed a four-year
initiative to cover 500,000 uninsured lowincome
children and another 900,000
eligible adults through Medicaid.
Schwarzenegger plans to reduce the
average cost of insurance by increasing
the number of people insured in his state,
and he has massive public support for
this. He has also proposed charging new
fees to doctors and hospitals. Although
his proposals had not been drafted into a
bill as of March 31, a January poll by the
Public Policy Institute of California found
that 71 per cent of Californians stand
behind the Governor’s efforts to fix the
broken system.
“States and cities will become the
important sources of leadership and the
federal government will start shrinking,”
Taplin predicted. “The states are asserting
their right to create a just society for
their citizens.”
Yet such policy innovation may be
simply a cyclical phenomenon in
American government.
“When the national government has
been controlled by conservatives, it has
been the states that have been the incubators
of new responsibilities and programs
for government,” wrote Richard Nathan
of the Rockefeller Institute in The Albany
Times Union newspaper in January.
“Often, these state innovations morph
into national policies when the national
mood shifts and is more responsive to
federal activism.”
However, there is a potential down
side to the Schwarzenegger phenomena.
Earl Fry, Director of Brigham Young
University’s Washington Seminar
Program in Provo, Utah, cautioned about
“What happens when Arnold leaves
office and the star power evaporates? How
will the so-called Bear Flag Revolution be
institutionalized when so much has been
done on a personal basis and linked so
closely to the well-known and charismatic