Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Arnie faces battle to prove he can do his new job

AFP , LOS ANGELES

California governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger romped to victory in the state recall election on a powerful mixture of voter rage and his own star power, analysts say.

Political experts were stunned by the newly-minted politician's margin of victory, as the True Lies star had failed to reveal many details of his policies for the richest but economically-troubled US state.

Even when he ambitiously unveiled his plan for his first 100 days in office last week, there were promises to "sweep" the Democratic government from power but few clues as to how he would tackle the state's myriad problems.

"For the people to win, politics as usual must lose," he said in his acceptance speech late Tuesday, in which he skimmed over earlier broad pledges and promised to start working Wednesday.

Schwarzenegger managed to overcome his policy shortcomings in the eyes of voters by successfully casting himself as a man of the people on a mission to stamp out the excesses of traditional politicians.

"He tapped into the anger and [defeated Governor Gray] Davis became the focal point of that anger because he's such an unattractive and uncharismxatic politician," said University of Southern California political pundit Elizabeth Garrett.

"In terms of policy we know very little about him [Schwarzenegger] and what he really plans to do, but the voters really don't seem to care," she said.

A CNN exit poll showed that while 50 percent of voters had a favorable impression of the former bodybuilder, 64 percent said he had not addressed policy in enough detail.

Some experts said that voters appeared to be dazzled by the Terminator star's Hollywood magnetism, which he used heavily in his campaign by repeating catch-phrases from his best-known movies.

But policy -- particularly economic policy -- is crucial to California, which is hobbled by a record US$38 billion budget deficit and faces rising unemployment, heavy taxes and huge immigration from Latin America.

"He's under the microscope now and will have to prove very quickly that he and the people around him are up to the job that he's won for himself," Garrett said.

From the moment he announced his candidacy, the brawny celebrity came under heavy criticism for failing to clarify his economic plans.

Under pressure, Schwarzenegger assembled a high-powered team of advisers that included billionaire investor Warren Buffett and former secretary of state George Schultz to help work out an economic strategy.

Schwarzenegger has promised to slash massive and "irresponsible" state spending, which rose by around 40 percent under Davis's five year tenure. Revenues during that period rose only 25 percent.

Schwarzenegger also said he would freeze spending and audit the state's US$99 billion budget. He promised to woo business and jobs back to California by reforming investment and employment regulations. He pledged not to raise taxes -- but with the caveat "never say never."

While vowing to attack the budget deficit head-on, Schwarzenegger said it was impossible to draw up detailed plans until the promised audit was completed.

But he promised to immediately repeal Davis' unpopular tripling of a car tax, get a "fair share" of Indian gambling revenue and ease the deficit by renegotiating state employee union contracts.

His plans remain vague, however, and to accomplish any of what he has pledged, Schwarzenegger will need to secure the cooperation of the state's Democrat-dominated legislature. Most laws require a simple 50 percentv plus one majority to pass, while budget proposals need a two-thirds majority.

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