LOS ANGELES -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is so much the opposite of one of his predecessors, the late Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, that it is a historical oddity that their names are being linked in California these days.
Brown was a convert from the Republican Party, a career politician who sparked a great and enduring Democratic upsurge when he won the first of his two terms in 1958. Schwarzenegger is the GOP in-law of the Kennedy clan, a showbiz celebrity who jumped into politics at the top by defeating Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in the recall election a little over a year ago.
Brown, whose historic accomplishments are recounted in a newly published biography, "California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown," by journalist Ethan Rarick, was awkward at best and often inept in his public appearances as his generation attempted the transition from backroom politics to the television age.
Schwarzenegger was designed to be camera-ready -- a bodybuilder and movie star who announced his candidacy on the Jay Leno show. But now, as the glamour fades, his governing skills are being tested -- and questioned -- as never before. The chances of a Republican revival in this mega-state depend directly on whether he can begin to match Brown's deeds in meeting the needs of California.
The agenda that Schwarzenegger announced in Sacramento this month is bold in its proposals for structural reforms of state government but miserly on money. The borrowing and economizing he used to get through his first year in office still have left an $8 billion shortfall in the new fiscal year. Determined not to raise taxes, Schwarzenegger is proposing to strip $2 billion in promised funding from the schools, divert $1 billion of earmarked highway money to the general fund, and slice health and welfare benefits.
He has triggered a monumental fight with the Democratic-controlled legislature, whose members are emboldened by Schwarzenegger's failure to defeat even one of them in the races in which he campaigned last fall.
He has been forced to renege on promises he made last year to local governments, educators and other constituencies. George Skelton, the veteran Sacramento-based columnist of the Los Angeles Times, wrote recently that Schwarzenegger "does seem to have promised too many things to too many people and now can't keep all his vows. This is beginning to take a toll on his image among insiders. For the first time, his credibility is being questioned."
Schwarzenegger retains his popularity with the public and has found a winning populist issue by targeting the generous pension benefits that Brown and other former governors lavished on public employees.
But some fellow Republicans are beginning to question his operation. They describe a gubernatorial staff whose wide range of views -- from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats -- has created continuing internal debates rather than clear policy lines.
Some Republicans agree privately with Democratic consultant Gale Kaufman's description of Schwarzenegger's behavior in setting fiscal policy as "schizophrenic."
His support for an initiative that would remove redistricting decisions from the legislature and give them to a panel of retired judges has been hailed by reform groups but has drawn a mixed reception from Republicans. Some see it as a possible path to a future challenge to Democratic control of the legislature and the California congressional delegation. But others argue that the short-term effect would more likely be to jeopardize the reelection of "safe" Republicans who now run four major committees in the U.S. House of Representatives by forcing them into competitive districts.
Meanwhile, the larger question is whether California is gaining or losing ground in reclaiming the reputation it won under Brown for being the pacesetter among all the states. Readers of Rarick's biography are being reminded that, however much he bumbled his TV appearances, Brown gave California what its explosive growth required: a water system that tapped the resources in the north to meet the population and industrial needs of the south; a network of freeways that enabled people to move from homes to jobs and back; a higher education system that equipped millions for middle-class jobs; and a set of social policies that allowed California to integrate massive numbers of immigrants and minorities.
The infrastructure Brown built -- the highways and campuses -- is badly overstrained today. The social policies are under challenge. The question facing Schwarzenegger is whether he can do what Pat Brown did: match policies and resources to help California through the next half-century of its growth.