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California’s Dream and Political Crises Essay

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Updated: Mar 18th, 2021


In addition to summarizing the key points and issues raised, this paper gives a personal reaction and assessment to the assigned reading, this being, a chapter entitled ‘California’s Wild Ride: A Very Different Kind of Governor’, in Power and Politics in California, by Ken DeBow & John C. Syer (9th Edition, 2008).

Key policy issues

‘Continuing’, as stated on the back cover ‘its tradition of asking Californians to take a hard and systematic look at their state governance …. ’, this, the ninth (fully updated) edition of DeBow and Syer’s book, Power and Politics in California, crucially addresses as well as examines, Governor Schwarzenegger’s management of California’s 58 counties in this framework, assessing it within the context of the state’s previous governors among other factors. Indeed, Chapter One of the book, ‘California’s Wild Ride: A Very Different Kind of Governor’, discussed here, focuses exactly on this, introduces the reader early on, to the important issues that have arisen both as a consequence of the election of Governor Schwarzenegger, this ‘very different kind of governor’, as the author’s describe him, as well as offering critical analysis and detailed assessment of the successes and failures of the ‘era of Arnold … now in its mid-stages’, to-date (DeBow, Syer; 5).

Specifically, this analysis addresses the crucial political issues, seemingly the reasons why he was so dramatically elected to office in the October 2003 recall election. This serves as a background to the real question addressed in the article and as the author’s comment on the page of this chapter, forms the crux, or central point behind the book entirely. Namely, that despite the obvious influence on elector’s choice of Schwarzenegger as governor, a mixture of his star-quality, if you like, his image too, as a force for change, that these, when taking into consideration what has, since his election occurred, do not count as much in his favor in the light of other more ‘deep-rooted’ and longer-term issues’ (DeBow, Syer; 6 ), that require resolution.1

What follows then, is a written analysis of these salient issues, followed by a brief discussion of how successful or not, the authors are in defending this, their main thesis in Chapter One. Key to his election was the recognition and shared belief held among California’s voters that his predecessor (a well known political figure in contrast to the untried Schwarzenegger), Gray Davis, who, up to two years previously, enjoyed high approval ratings, not least, as a consequence of the then, soaring economy. The bursting of the economic bubble and the resulting negative impact (particularly, say the author’s) on public services, featured heavily in Davis’s downfall, and not, incidentally they add, feature as much as a problem throughout the Schwarzenegger governorship to-date. The point they make stands up in the light of the statistical evidence they produce to support it, as Table’s 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, and 1.5 show (DeBow, Syer; 6,8,9,11, 12).

Naturally then, a key area of discussion raised in this chapter then concerns the all-important economy, conveniently divided into exploring the micro and macro factors involved. The explicit question asked being how has Schwarzenegger’s governorship fared in reversing the massive economic downturn which beset the last years’ of Gray’s term in office as governor, and involving among other things, the end of the rising fortunes of the dot.com millionaires. Schwarzenegger’s ‘star-quality persona aside’, which, although producing a temporary obscuring, did not erase, other long term issues facing the state (DeBow, Syer; 6). Indeed it is not improving and judged on this, Schwarzenegger is considered as having failed, similarly, in tackling other seemingly intractable and ‘problematical’ trends, including questions involving immigration.

The fact that there is strong evidence among Californian voters to bring about changes to the political system through the ‘initiative process’ is also upheld, by among other things, the relative enthusiasm with which ‘citizens and private groups’ have met the opportunity this gives to ‘write new laws and amend existing laws’.

On a personal note, this last point though well-made does not then discuss how much these new initiatives were themselves influenced by the (till the 2003 election), unheard-of success in the financing, fielding, and winning the political battle for the governorship). This indeed, marking new ground and no less reversing a before then, the long, stolid trend of voters electing Democratic candidates’ to this position.


The chapter does well to set Schwarzenegger’s governorship in context with his predecessor, Gray. The author’s careful too, to not overemphasize the personality and ‘recognizability’ of the former in American – let alone Californian life – as more than relevant to the initial ‘irrational impulses’ that probably influenced voters at the beginning to elect such a politically inexperienced rank outsider. In assessing his governorship too, we find a careful evaluation that correctly stresses that many of the problems Schwarzenegger faced and faces were endemic already within the style of system inherent within Californian politics. Therefore they conclude, these problems go beyond blaming, or simply replacing any one individual. However, that said, one major reason behind Schwarzenegger’s election was his pledge to disrupt politics as usual, and his emphatic commitment to houseclean the political system. This then, we must conclude, though it is not a conclusion drawn in this chapter, Schwarzenegger has proved a failure also. Nonetheless, overall, this is a well-written and informative chapter, well-placed at the beginning, as it serves as an excellent grounding for discussing what concerns the rest of the book, namely, the government and politics of California.

Works cited

DeBow, K., C. Syer, J., Power, and Politics in California (Longman, 2008).

Wunderman, J., ‘California government has failed us’, article dated Thursday, 2008.


  1. Many of these burning issues are listed, not to mention heavily criticized for not being dealt with, and even in some instances made worse, under Schwarzenegger’s governorship, in an August 21st, 2008 article, written by Jim Wunderman (president and CEO of the Bay Area Council).
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