Politics 2003Week of April 28


As I have found on my twice-a-year trips to California, speculation about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s running for office now comes with the territory. At every Republican meeting at any level in the Golden State, there is buzzing about "The Terminator" soon following in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan and Sonny Bono-leaving the sound stages of Hollywood for the political stages of Sacramento or Washington. The bulk of the speculation has Schwarzenegger running for governor when Democratic incumbent Gray Davis is legally termed out in 2006 (or even sooner if recall proponents gather enough signatures to put Davis’s continued tenure on the fall ballot).

Two weeks ago, "Ah-nold-mania" came to the nation’s Capital, as the muscleman was spotted April 9 having breakfast at the posh Four Seasons Hotel. What really got the juices of pundits and pols going was not just Schwarzenegger but his breakfast companion: Frank Luntz, pollster for Ross Perot, Newt Gingrich, and William Simon, Jr. in his unsuccessful race for governor of California last November. Could the Austrian-born actor be planning his anticipated bid for office already? Apparently not. Schwarzenegger told the Washington Post that he did not discuss a political campaign, that the pow-wow was really about "Frank trying to get me to go on his [MSNBC] television show to talk about the importance of after-school programs-and I am more than happy to do it."

Last fall, Schwarzenegger wrote and oversaw the passage of Proposition 49, a statewide initiative in California that would provide $550 million a year in tax dollars for before- and after-school programs, ostensibly to help latch-key children. With Conan the Republican donating $1 million of the $3.6-million budget to secure passage, the state Republican convention also gave its blessings to the measure-albeit presenting a striking contradiction with the generally right-of-center and anti-government nature of state GOP conclaves. Most of the delegates voted to endorse the costly measure, party sources assured me, solely because of Schwarzenegger.

Now, it turns out, the former "Kindergarten Cop" is going national with his crusade for tax dollars for after-school programs. Schwarzenegger was in Washington to strong-arm House members into restoring the hundreds of millions of dollars for such programs that have been cut from the Fiscal Year ’04 budget by the Bush Administration. (The proposed budget eliminates more than 40 small programs and agencies from the Department of Education alone, according to OMB Director Mitch Daniels, and makes cuts in others; one program Schwarzenegger is particularly interested in is the 21st Century Learning Centers program. Arnold is trying to get Congress to restore the $400 million Bush and Daniels slashed from its present $1-billion budget.)

In attempting to rescue federally funded after-school programs, Schwarzenegger held a private dinner April 9 at Signatures Restaurant for some key figures on Capitol Hill. Among those breaking bread with the action star were California Republican Representatives, Darrell Issa, Jerry Lewis, and Dana Rohrabacher (who had several meetings with Schwarzenegger about a bid for office before the actor opted against a race for governor last year). Also in the dinner group was National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.), a native Californian and a family friend.

Surely among such a group, I said to a top aide to one of the guests , the topic of a gubernatorial campaign by the host must have come up? "No, there was no discussion of a campaign," the aide claimed, "It was all about restoring money to the programs [that Schwarzenegger] supports." He added that California Democratic Representatives Anna Eschoo and Nancy Pelosi also dropped by the dinner.


A soft-spoken-but-bright conservative who served, admirers believed, a too-brief eight years in Congress died on April 4 following a long bout with throat cancer. Harold S. Sawyer, 83, was primarily known as "Jerry Ford’s congressman"-the Republican who took back the Grand Rapids, Mich., seat for Republicans after Democrats had won it twice when Ford left Congress to become Vice President. But with his accomplishments in and out of Congress, Sawyer was much more than that.

A native of San Francisco and graduate of the University of California and Hastings College of Law, young Hal Sawyer settled in Grand Rapids to practice law after four years in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Within a short time, his courtroom eloquence and flamboyance during cross-examination and summation had made Sawyer a Water Wonderland version of Melvin Belli and Louis Nizer-and very wealthy. Rep.-to-be (1966-92) Guy Vander Jagt (R.-Mich.) recalled to me how, upon graduation from the University of Michigan Law School in 1960, "I told the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, John Dethmers, that I wanted to work with the best trial lawyer in America and I’ll go anywhere-New York, Houston, San Francisco-to do it. He said that I didn’t have to go that far, that the best trial lawyer in America is only a few miles from here, and that’s Hal Sawyer. So I knocked on his door and he hired me."

In 1975, Sawyer left his thriving practice to become Kent County prosecutor at $1 a year. A year later, he gained national attention by unseating Democratic Rep. Richard VanderVeen-who in a special election in 1973 had won the House seat long held by President Ford and became an irritant to Republicans by holding it in the general election the following year. Rep. Sawyer quickly became a respected member of the House Judiciary Committee and took a lead role on controversial measures by supporting a total free-market approach to copyright issues, a complete overhaul of the criminal code, and-in a preview of what would become a red-hot issue a generation later-opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants in 1982. In 1978, the freshman lawmaker cast the deciding vote on the committee to kill an unprecedented extension of the ratification period for the controversial Equal Rights Amendment-no easy task for Sawyer as friends Jerry and Betty Ford lobbied him hard to support extension.

In large part because he embraced controversy in a district used to "mainstream" Republicans such as Ford, Sawyer never had an easy race. The year he helped finish ERA, his Democratic opponent came within 1,200 votes of unseating him. He won his next two terms over spirited opposition with less than 53% of the vote. In 1984, he retired and was succeeded in Congress by a more "Establishment" Republican, the late (1984-93) Paul Henry.

A footnote: It was often said of Sawyer that he touched the lives of many, such as Vander Jagt. Recalling how he said as much to the Grand Rapids cabdriver who had driven him to the funeral, Vander Jagt said "and then the driver interrupted, ‘You’re talking about Congressman Sawyer?’ When I said I was, the driver then said how forty years ago, he was arrested for breaking and entering and Sawyer knew his father and represented him free of charge. Although the evidence was overwhelming, Sawyer somehow managed to switch the sentence from prison to probation and kept him out of jail. ‘I never did anything wrong ever again,’ the driver told me. Hal had changed his life for the good."


With the announcement by Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R.-Wash.) that she will seek re-election next year rather than take on Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, Republican eyes in the Evergreen State are now on Rep. George Nethercutt as their possible Senate standard-bearer.

Five-termer Nethercutt (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 91%), best-known for unseating then-House Speaker Tom Foley (D.-Wash.) in 1994, has long said that he was interested in the Senate race but would run only if Dunn did not. Now, according to Nethercutt spokesman April Gentry, the congressman "is looking hard at it and will be out talking to people on both sides of the state."

One possible sign that Nethercutt will run, a subscriber in Olympia told me, is that the Republican state legislator long regarded as his heir apparent, State Senate Republican Floor Leader Larry Sheahan, "is being greeted as ‘Congressman’ on the Olympia Capitol grounds." Sheahan is considered a cinch for the GOP nomination in any open 5th District (Spokane). The 43-year-old Willamette lawyer, best known for his parliamentary know-how, is considered more conservative on cultural issues than Nethercutt.