Kevin Starr: Arnold Should Govern Like a Bi-Partisan Figure in the Mold of Hiram Johnson

Roundup: Historians' Take

Kevin Starr, state librarian of California, writing in the LA Times (Nov. 16, 2003):

Of necessity, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger must run a fusion government....

This will be an easier task if the new governor revives the bipartisan "Party of California" that animated four previous — and great — governors: Hiram Johnson, Earl Warren, Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan....

Serving from 1911 to 1917, [Hiram Johnson] is remembered today as the greatest governor in the history of the state. Why? He led the reform of California. Under his leadership, the Progressives, a Republican-dominated coalition with a strong Democratic wing, rescued and revitalized — indeed, refounded — California by redesigning its government. Conservative Republicans were always suspicious of Johnson, just as they are suspicious of Schwarzenegger. When Johnson went to the U.S. Senate, serving there from 1917 to 1945, he kept his Progressive designation on the ballot, along with his Republican one, just in case the GOP right wing turned against him.

Warren served from 1943 to 1953, when he was appointed chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Some historians contend that he turned from conservative Republican to liberal Republican while on the court. Not so. Warren was a hard-nosed crime buster as attorney general, but as governor he was a fusion politician. His inner circle included Democrat William Sweigert, an Irish-Catholic attorney from San Francisco. He successfully urged Warren to push for such liberal programs as workers' compensation and equal opportunity in employment. The two formed a kind of Masonic-Catholic odd couple, with Sweigert as the articulator of the liberal side of Warren's political imagination. The Republican governor was equally friendly with Atty. Gen. Robert Kenny, a Daniel Patrick Moynihan-like liberal intellectual who was strongly influenced by the social teachings of papal encyclicals. Once again, as in the case of Johnson, the Republican establishment, sensing the liberal in Warren, who would flower when he became chief justice, frowned on his fusionist tendencies.

Brown, governor from 1959 to 1967, began his political career as a Republican. He didn't, however, entirely leave his Republican self behind when he became a Democrat, because the GOP of his day had a highly respected moderate-to-liberal wing. When attorney general, Brown was so close to Warren that he should be considered a member of the governor's inner circle. The two frequently drove to Sacramento from the Bay Area together. As governor, Brown enlisted key Republicans to support such programs as the water plan, the master plan for higher education, development of state beaches and parks, welfare expansion and fair-employment practices.

Republican Reagan, governor from 1967 to 1975, never forgot that he owed his political success in part to Democrats. As president, Reagan's friendship with House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, a quintessential Irish-Catholic Democrat from Massachusetts, had its prototypes in Reagan's good-humored relations with key Democrats throughout his two terms as California's chief executive. Elected on an anti-tax platform, Reagan listened to Democrats once in office and, early in his first term, gave Californians the biggest tax hike in their history — and got away with it.

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