San Jose, Calif. — If a pollster had surveyed the more than 1,400 Republican Party activists who crowded the Fairmont Hotel for the state GOP convention last week, the odds are good that he would have found considerable disagreement with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Disagreements were over such issues as his calls for increasing the state minimum wage and for a massive bond measure to pay for infrastructure projects, and over his budget, which does not erase the imbalance between what the state spends and takes in and which includes such "nanny state" items as $85 million for jump ropes and other gym equipment for public schools because of Schwarzenegger’s concern about obesity among the young. The complaint most loudly voiced by conservatives was that the GOP governor named as his chief of staff Susan Kennedy, a Democrat and close associate of former Democratic Gov. (1998-2003) Gray Davis.
"I don’t care if he’s re-elected or not," former State Republican Chairman Mike Schroeder told me on Saturday evening, echoing a denunciation of Schwarzenegger he had made earlier at the convention with two other past state chairmen, Truman Campbell and John Herrington. Schroeder specifically singled out for criticism Schwarzenegger’s judicial nominees for 118 vacancies, who comprised 59 Republicans, 47 Democrats and 12 not listing party affiliation. (A motion was actually put before the convention’s Resolutions Committee calling on the party to revoke its endorsement of the governor, but it was unanimously rejected.)
But Schroeder and the "anti-Arnolds" were a small minority in San Jose. For all the vocal criticism of the governor on the right, most conservatives seem willing to swallow their differences with Schwarzenegger and work for his re-election.
"I don’t agree with the governor on every single issue," former State Party Chairman and longtime conservative activist Shawn Steel told a forum sponsored by the Free Enterprise Action Fund held during the convention. "But I sure don’t agree on a single issue with [State Comptroller] Steve Westly and [State Treasurer] Phil Angelides"– a reference to the two liberal Democrats vying in the June primary to oppose Schwarzenegger. The latest polls usually show Schwarzenegger either running even with or slightly trailing Westly and Angelides among voters statewide.
Steel’s view was strongly seconded by the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition — no friend of Schwarzenegger in the ’03 recall election that brought Arnold to power, but now strongly for the governor. Last week, Sheldon told me "it is suicide not to" work for Schwarzenegger over either Democratic hopeful.
Schwarzenegger himself appeared aware of the frustrations when he addressed the convention banquet. In declaring, "We have a record that we can be proud of," the governor avoided any mention of his non-conservative stands and instead focused on matters that caused the conventioneers to cheer: rolling back the Golden State’s car tax; repealing a bill to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens; overhauling the worker’s compensation system; and reducing the multi-billion dollar budget. Schwarzenegger was also cheered when he underscored his opposition to any tax increase and demanded that Washington do more to secure California’s borders.
"[T]he crowd roared," reported the San Jose Mercury News, "when Schwarzenegger invoked the name of [State] Sen. Tom McClintock, a candidate for lieutenant governor."