In the 1972 film, "The Godfather," Vito Corleone meets with the heads of the Five Families in an effort to end a year-long feud. "How did things ever get so far?" he says. "I don't know. It was so -- unfortunate -- so unnecessary."
Most Capitol observers feel the same way about the feud launched by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Jan. 5, when he declared war on a variety of Democratic constituencies despite the fact that he is the governor of a vastly Democratic state.
So, how did we get here? What would drive a governor who was voted into office by a bipartisan coalition to turn his back on half his constituency? Was it an ideological change of heart, or was it a strategic mistake based on the hubris derived from booming approval ratings? My money's on the latter.
Schwarzenegger came into office with a bipartisan mandate. Republicans voted for him, but that's only half the story. He received strong support from independents and even support from Democrats. In a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California taken in February 2004, 44 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents approved of Schwarzenegger's job performance. That support has vanished.
Just as voters were angry with what they perceived as failures by Davis, they are even more furious with Schwarzenegger's deliberate and calculated moves away from the bipartisanship that was the hallmark of his candidacy.
Schwarzenegger campaigned on education, health care, and – most prominently – a promise to reform the way politicians do business in Sacramento.
On education, he negotiated agreements with the education community in his first year, only to renege on his promises to fully fund schools under Proposition 98 in his second year.
On healthcare, he pledged that his first actions as governor would be to make children's healthcare a priority. He has yet to fulfill his campaign promise to "immediately go out and promote" California's Healthy Families program, and "market it and get it out there so everybody knows about it and signs up." To date, he has yet to hold a single event promoting healthy families and enrollment in the program has declined.
On campaign reform, he promised to not take any money from special interests, ban fundraising during the budget process and forgo money from business with interests before the state. In the past year we've had a daily barrage of stories regarding Schwarzenegger's pay-for-play administration.
He campaigned with a broom to sweep out the Capitol. That broom has been replaced with a shovel to pick up his campaign contributions. He has raised more money for his campaign projects than any other governor in history and has obliterated the line between governance and campaigning. Schwarzenegger himself profits from his campaign cash machine by paying himself rent and travel expenses.
In short, Schwarzenegger has become the anti-thesis of everything he campaigned for and has nothing to show for it except a war no one but his corporate donors want.
As a result, Schwarzenegger's once-skyrocketing approval ratings have crashed and burned, and now he is hounded by questions about his secretive business dealings and his ethics.
In "The Godfather", the gangster Barzini sets a war in motion to effect a policy change opposed by the Corleone family. Like Barzini, Gov. Schwarzenegger started this war because he overestimated the strength of his own position and underestimated the resolve of his opponents.
They each exerted their muscle and capitol in an effort to dominate and wrest control of the agenda from the existing power structure. They each wanted to shift policies in an effort to improve the bottom line for themselves and their associates.
And just like in the movie, in the end you have a tragic conflict where nobody can really win and everybody ends up losing.