WASHINGTON -- Arnold Schwarzenegger met with a bunch of California Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday while on Capitol Hill to lobby for after-school programs. But it was notable that the one with whom he strode to the podium at a Capitol news conference was Sen. Barbara Boxer.
The once strident opponents and ideological firebrands have mellowed over the years.
Schwarzenegger’s path to the political middle is well-documented. Activists in the state GOP were ready to ex-communicate the movie star who first ran for office as an antitax crusader, but who had raised taxes by the time he exited government in 2010. The landmark global warming legislation he pursued as governor was unforgivable to many conservatives.
While Boxer remains an unapologetic liberal, the recent government shutdown rattled her. The chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, she watched even the measures with broad bipartisan support on her agenda roll backward. On the final day of the shutdown, she told reporters that fixing Congress may require the types of election reforms Schwarzenegger managed to implement in California, over loud objections from fellow Democrats.
Boxer had been particularly concerned about losing control over the process of drawing political boundaries. Schwarzenegger helped persuade voters to put that process in the hands of an independent redistricting commission. The new boundaries ultimately favored Democrats, but many urban liberals in other states continue to oppose such efforts. They worry the lines could be redrawn in ways that dilute their power. In other states, tea party Republicans oppose the efforts for the same reason.
Boxer, a well-known partisan street fighter, now says it is a risk worth taking.
“When these districts are drawn in this fashion, people don’t have any desire or need to come to the table,” she said as the shutdown was coming to an end Oct. 16. “In California, tremendous reform has taken place…. We now have swing districts where we didn’t before. Democrats and Republicans were very leery of it. But we are all working with it and it is exciting.”
Election experts are divided on how much of an impact the changes have really had on the process in California, and whether they have resulted in a body of elected officials that is more willing to seek compromise. But Boxer says she sees changes.
“We actually have elections that are unpredictable,” she said. “The more competitive the districts are, the more room you have for independent thinking and new kinds of coalitions.”