CALIFORNIA WRAPUP….Here’s my take on what happened in California yesterday. Note: This is strictly a gut feel, not backed up by even a whit of research or special knowledge.

Arnold lost big time on Tuesday, and he lost because he turned out not to be the Arnold he marketed himself as in 2003. That Arnold ? a genuinely moderate Republican ? was a very salable commodity even in liberal California, which is not nearly as flakey as its reputation once you tear your attention away from the famously liberal enclaves of Marin County, Berkeley, and the Westside. In fact, the rest of California is either flat out conservative or else pragmatically liberal. California’s midwestern roots still run deep.

But the bipartisan Arnold barely even lasted out the campaign, quickly replaced by a guy who made an occasional symbolic nod to moderation ? a hydrogen-powered Hummer, a refusal to demonize abortion ? while spending the bulk of his time as a standard issue business-pandering Republican. By backing a large slate of initiatives that “just happened” to favor Republicans, instead of limiting himself to just one or two, Arnold made it inescapably clear that his agenda was harshly partisan. His “reform” agenda was aimed like a laser not at punishing bad government, but merely at punishing Democrats and anyone else who disagreed with Arnold and his $1,000-a-plate corporate pals.

To me, the most obvious example of this was Proposition 77, the redistricting initiative. There are plenty of liberal, good government groups who would have eagerly supported a decent redistricting initiative, but instead Arnold supported a plan that was not only poorly thought out, thus losing the goo-goo vote, but also fairly obviously partisan, which lost some of the liberal vote. If Arnold (and Prop 77 creator Ted Costa) had been willing to work on a genuinely bipartisan basis to come up with a decent redistricting plan, I’ll bet it would have passed.

Who knows? Maybe Arnold will get the message: Californians really are sick of the mess in Sacramento, but they don’t want to replace a Democratic mess with a Republican mess. I suspect he still has a slim chance to resuscitate his reputation, but only if he stops being a poodle for rich business interests and finds a few centrist Democrats to form a genuinely moderate, bipartisan, fiscally sensible coalition with. The problem is that after Tuesday’s debacle, it’s not clear there are any Democrats who are even willing to be seen in public with him, let alone work out a real bipartisan agenda. 2006 is going to be a very tough year for the Governator.

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