Seven habits of highly ineffective governors

With Gov. Schwarzenegger’s second term about to wrap up, several names have begun to surface as his possible replacement, with California Attorney General Jerry Brown and eBay CEO Meg Whitman currently leading the polls. The campaign has yet to hit its stride, but with the financial disarray that California has been stewing in, the race will prove to be heated.

If either of these candidates is going to convince California they’re the right person to get the state out of its jam, they’ll have to prove they’re not reading from the same book as previous California leaders — the fictional antithesis to Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective governors are as follows, with apologies to Covey:

1. Be reactive

Deal with problems now, and let the future handle itself. If the state is going to face a $26.3 billion deficit, make plenty of stopgap measures that will solve the deficit now but will leave the state with a $20.8 billion deficit the following year. If worse comes to worst, income withholding and taxes can always increase. After all, budget deficits are part of the norm for California. In 2008, the state faced a $16 billion deficit, and in 2003 — under former Gov. Gray Davis — the state faced a $10 billion deficit. It’s the same problem every year, just never solved.

2. Neglect the implications of your decisions

If you’re good at No. 1, this should be no problem. Always make sure you’re spending. Recall that Davis had the luxury of a surplus in the late ’90s and spent heavily to continue building California. Davis’ real innovation came when the state lost revenue after getting hit by the dot-com bubble in 2000. The state legislature and the governor continued to spend. This left California in an inopportune position when the electricity crisis hit the following year.

3. Push things off until later

Procrastination is a staple of California politics. Take note of the water bill recently signed by Schwarzenegger to upgrade California’s ancient water system and its policies, pledging to fund the project with an $11.1 billion bond. In typical California fashion, the state waited decades until it was forced to attempt to fix the insipid issue, leaving Central Valley farmers to wonder if their farms could manage until the implementations take place. Ongoing droughts have left 500,000 unplanted. Another drought next year, and the farmers might be done for. That’s the sign that you can finally do something to help them.

4. Think lose/lose

The governor of California faces relentless pressure from Democrats to raise taxes and unanimous opposition from Republicans against it. Don’t bother mediating the parties. That will translate to another round of nasty spending cuts for programs Democrats support.

5. Appeal to every faction and then disappoint each one

A recent Los Angeles Times/USC poll showed Californians hold very little in common in terms of their political perspectives, besides their disdain for the state’s current direction. They each think everyone else is wrong. Your job is to “microtarget” by appealing to every one of these political segments, that way you can please hardly anyone and anger practically everyone at the same time.

6. Practice convolution

Arguments between the legislative and executive branch can always be handled by one word: veto. Budget cuts not up to snuff? Veto. Proposed panel to draft a finance reform bill not working? Veto. Don’t want to help finance San Francisco’s waterfront projects? Veto, with an emphasis. That same veto came with Schwarzenegger’s now infamous four-letter message hidden in the first word of every line. It might have been a coincidence, but doesn’t vetoing everything that comes from legislation send the exact same message?

7. Sharpen the sword

How you handle criticism as a politician is often more important than the actual bill you help pass. If lawmakers are having trouble passing a budget because you think they’re catering to special interests, badmouth them until you get your way. Try calling them girlie men, and if that doesn’t work, send them a sculpture of brass bull balls to get your message across. Certainly it’s a little childish, but that’s politics.

Ultimately, it’s obvious California needs more consistency out of its leaders. If California hopes to escape the same type of problems that have been following it throughout the past decade, the first step it needs to take is to elect a governor who’s following a different script.

Robert Fragoza is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. His column, “Reality Check,” runs Fridays.

3 replies
  1. Christopher Ganiere
    Christopher Ganiere says:

    The governor could have gone along way to solving the state’s problems by Vetoing everything that came to his desk. Not one new law cuts spending or reduces services. He could have saved piles of money by leaving unfilled all the political appointees and suspending the boards that go along with them. He could end the vehicle and gasoline subsidies of state employees and elected officials. He could limit end of budget year spending – every state entity has money left over in the last month of the budget and they all blow it. Just giving a paid vacation to everyone for the last month of the fiscal year with no notice would save BILLIONS.

  2. Chris
    Chris says:

    I’m with ya, but as inept as our Governator is, you have to admit that our system is built for deadlock.
    – First, it takes 2/3 of our insanely polarized legislature to pass a budget. We have literally the most liberal and most conservative state senators in the country here in CA:

    So, every year is going to be a massive struggle while Democrats push for massive, irresponsible expansion of services while the Republicans refuse to raise a single penny in taxes.
    – Second, since it also takes 2/3 to raise a tax, anything but a massive Dem majority makes it impossible to increase revenue.
    SO! Then we send it to the people. Since it only takes 50% for a referendum to pass a new tax, we let the people decide.
    Guess what we’re really good at: Voting for new services, and not for new taxes. We’ve taken away any potential for our representatives to solve problems, leaving it to us to be fiscally irresponsible.
    IIRC, we are the only state with this double-2/3 problem. I fear that our state is inherently ungovernable, even by the most capable governor we could possibly send to Sacramento.

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