Arnold Schwarzenegger's rise and immigration-related fall
By Joe Guzzardi
Woodie Guthrie wrote about California in his 1937 song, Do Re Mi
“Lots of folks back East, they say, is leavin' home every day,
Beatin' the hot old dusty way to the California line.
'Cross the desert sands they roll, gettin' out of that old dust bowl,
They think they're goin' to a sugar bowl, but here's what they find —
Now, the police at the port of entry say,
‘You're number fourteen thousand for today.’
“You want to buy you a home or a farm, that can't deal nobody harm,
Or take your vacation by the mountains or sea.
Don't swap your old cow for a car, you better stay right where you are,
Better take this little tip from me.
'Cause I look through the want ads every day
But the headlines on the papers always say:
“If you ain't got the do re mi, boys, you ain't got the do re mi,
Why, you better go back to beautiful Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.
“California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see;
But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot
If you ain't got the do re mi.”
Guthrie experienced California’s false promise first hand when he left Pampa, Texas for Los Angeles to escape the Dust Bowl and start his life anew.
Things didn’t work out, however. What Guthrie found instead of a “sugar bowl” was landowners and powerful agricultural growers all too eager to exploit the downtrodden, transplanted Oakies.
As I look back at Guthrie’s song seventy years later, I find that it’s filled with irony.
California is still clicking along at 1,440 new residents per day. But many of them aren’t coming through a “port of entry,” or entering under the supervision of the “police.”
And the illegal alien influx has made things extremely “hot” for one particular Californian even though he has plenty of “do re mi.”
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, his political career in tatters, will not be remembered of as Hollywood’s greatest action hero. Instead, historians will look back at him as the governor who presided over California biggest financial crisis that may mark the Golden State’s official end.
As quickly as Schwarzenegger’s political star rose, it plunged just as fast.
In 2003, angry, disgusted Californians collected enough signatures to force a special election to recall then-governor Gray Davis. The election put the popular Schwarzenegger in Sacramento because movie fans loved him and disenchanted voters believed his empty promise to once and for all reform the state’s dysfunctional government.
Five years ago, I was one of 125 ballot recall candidates who opposed Davis and Schwarzenegger. As I look back on it, I can say without fear of contradiction that I could easily have managed the state more effectively than Schwarzenegger.
Stated more modestly, no one could have done worse.
I ran on a straightforward platform: end illegal immigration, reduce legal immigration significantly and thereby lessen California’s financial obligation to provide education, medical care and sundry other financial services to the world, especially Mexico.
Even though many considered my quixotic campaign controversial, I received a surprising amount of positive print media coverage, over Internet blogs as well as on talk radio and television. And in the end, I finished in the middle of the pack—not bad given my limited pocketbook. Most Californians spend more on their home entertainment system than I did running for governor.
Although Schwarzenegger comfortably won the election, patriots remained cautiously optimistic that the Austrian-born, legal immigrant would bring a common sense perspective about immigration with him to Sacramento. Sadly, our hopes were quickly dashed.
During the first years of his administration, Schwarzenegger proved an immigration waffler.
By endorsing the Minutemen, saying they did a “wonderful job,” Schwarzenegger started out well enough. And he vetoed Gil Cedillo’s omnipresent bill to provide illegal aliens driver’s licenses.
But ultimately, Schwarzenegger caved into California’s Hispanic Caucus and reverted to Davis’ immigrant pandering, insisting against all logic that illegal aliens who live in California don’t have a negative impact on the states’ financial condition.
Before long, Schwarzenegger presided over a $40 billion budget deficit, increased spending to levels 40 percent above the notorious spending- crazed Davis, watched California’s unemployment rate climb steadily to 10.1 percent to become the nation’s fourth-highest while watching the state’s bonds’ rating sink to an all-time low. [California Bond Rating Drops Lower Than Any Other State, by Jordan Rau and Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2008]
But on immigration, Schwarzenegger completely miscalculated the ultimate price tag. In 2004, I wrote here that California budget problems, many fueled by unchecked immigration, were a “smoldering volcano.” But the volcano’s force exceeded my wildest dreams.
According to the California’s non-partisan fiscal policy advisor, the Legislative Analyst’s Office, here’s a rough conservative hard dollar estimate of what Californians pay to foot Schwarzenegger’s passive attitude toward illegal immigration.
* Roughly 20,000 illegal immigrants are doing stretches in state prisons, representing 11 percent of all inmates. California absorbs about $1 billion in direct expenses while receiving about $120 million federal funds thus leaving an $880 million net cost to the state.
* Although Illegal immigrants aren't entitled to welfare, called CalWORKs, their citizen children are. Roughly 190,000 kids receive welfare checks that pass through their parents. The Legislative Analyst’s Office put the tab conservatively at $500 million.
* California spends $775 million on Medi-Cal healthcare for illegal immigrants, according to the Legislative Analyst. Of that, $642 million goes into direct benefits. Practically all the rest is paid to counties to administer the program. The federal government generally matches the state dollar-for-dollar on mandatory programs.
* So-called emergency services are another huge cost: $536 million. Prenatal care alone is $59 million. Omitted from the overall total expense is baby delivery—well over $100 million—because the newborns are, technically, American citizens, not illegal immigrants.
* California also pays $47 million for programs not mandated by the federal government including non-emergency care (breast and cervical cancer treatment), $25 million; long-term nursing home care, $19 million; abortions, $3 million.
* Educating illegal aliens is the single biggest California taxpayer burden. Last week, I calculated that of California’s 1.5 million non-English speakers attending K-12 schools, about 500,000 are illegal aliens and another 500,000 anchor babies. Depending on how you interpret anchor babies, the state’s education tab for aliens is either $3.5 billion or $7 billion.
Of course, Californians underwrite scores of other alien-related expenses especially those paid out through local governments.
But you get the multi-billion- dollar picture, I’m sure, without my providing you with more details.
Some immigration enthusiasts argue that taxes paid by illegal aliens compensate for their costs. But this nonsensical claim is to laugh out loud.
Sure, when aliens work, they pay state taxes. Yet illegal aliens are, by virtue of their income, modest spenders. Their biggest contribution to the state’s revenue stream is sales tax. But food and prescription drugs—the two biggest ticket items—are tax-exempt.[Illegal Immigrants Are A Factor in California’s Budget Math, by George Skelton, Los Angeles Times, February 2, 2009]
If only Schwarzenegger could have summoned up the guts to tackle the illegal immigration crisis!
While it is true that for the most part, immigration is a federal issue, think of the impact Schwarzenegger could have had if he had taken a bold—and defensible— position on behalf of his constituents by calling for dramatically reduced immigration levels. A California governor, particularly a high visibility figure like Schwarzenegger, has political clout—doubly so within the celebrity-loving Capitol Hill crowd.
Imagine this could-have-been headline: “California’s Immigrant Governor Demands Less Immigration!”
Who knows? Maybe Schwarzenegger’s none-too-coy interest (with a little help from a Constitutional amendment) in becoming the first foreign-born president may have gathered momentum.
But now Schwarzenegger’s political career is dead as a doornail.
As for my own political aspirations, I’ve moved away from California to Pennsylvania and have no active plans to get back into the arena.
But I must note that Pennsylvania has inviting targets like Senators and Robert Casey and Arlen Specter, “D+” and “F” respectively, are up for re-election in 2010 and 2012.
With immigration much more prominent on the nation’s radar screen today than it was in 2003—even in Pennsylvania—it’s up to some courageous but as yet unidentified candidate to knock Casey and Specter out of office.
To him, I pass the baton!
Joe Guzzardi is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.