Governor views state like a 10-lane freeway

May 06, 2008 11:00 pm

First came Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, labeling small-town residents as "bitter," and "clinging to guns, religion antipathy for people who aren't like them or anti-immigration sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

And now, while that April wound is still fresh, comes California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with a salt shaker.

The governor, at a Sacramento infrastructure conference last week, suggested we rural voters elect narrow-minded slackers to the Assembly and State Senate.

"They come from those little towns and they don't have that vision yet of an airport or of a highway that maybe has 10 lanes. Or of putting a highway on top of a highway," said Schwarzenegger. "They look at you and they say, ‘Well, we don't have that in my town. What are you talking about?' "

Shy on votes and low on clout, it seems that those of us living in small town America have this spring become whipping boys for the rich, the urban and the politically powerful.

Obama's comments, because they were directed specifically at Midwestern small towns and because they were made at a private fundraiser and not meant for public consumption, are at least partially understandable. After all, a measure of justifiable resentment can be expected from Rust Belt residents who have seen their town's lone factory shut down and its jobs imported halfway around the world.

Obama, as suspect as his comments on guns and religion might be, has been in small towns. As the primary election campaign wound through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and many more lagely rural states, the Illinois senator held high school-gym rallies in communities far smaller than Sonora.

But Schwarzenegger, with a home in the Los Angeles area and a governor's mansion in Sacramento, spends precious little time in small-town California.

Our roving governor has visited Japan, Chile, China, Mexico and numerous European nations. He's also a regular in New York and Washington and a seasoned TV talk show guest.

But in four years in office, Schwarzenegger has never made a public appearance in Tuolumne or Calaveras counties. He declined a 2005 invitation to visit Columbia for its Glorious Fourth of July celebration. He did so even though previous July visits by California governors Earl Warren and Ronald Reagan led one to become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the other, president.

Arnold hasn't publicaly visited Calaveras County, even though it has a pretty mountain town which shares his first name.

Sadly, Schwarzenegger is not alone. Jerry Brown, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis didn't come here either. But none of those governors second-guessed the representatives we sent to the Legislature.

No past governor was naive enough to suggest that living outside some Bay Area or Southern California megalopolis automatically defines you as a hayseed. Or that small-town lawmakers are afflicted with limited horizons, a feeble grasp of statewide issues, an inability recognize problems beyond district lines or, for that matter, sufficient intellectual curiosity to travel to the state's great cities and view their problems first-hand.

The irony in Schwarzenegger's remarks is that he himself has not traveled to California rural areas to view our problems first hand. Unless horrific disaster strikes and the governor whirs overhead in a chopper, don't expect to see him in these voter-poor precincts anytime soon.

Although our own Republican state legislators did not return calls for comment and may be reluctant to criticize a nationally known GOP leader, at least one Democrat was not so shy.

"The governor doesn't live like most people and points to rural legislators as down on the rung of trying to understand what modern society is," reacted State Senator Dean Florez of Shafter (pop. 14,000). "It's just insulting."

Schwarzenegger's remarks lead us to believe that, in the interest of a better informed administration, the Legislature should pass a law requiring any new governor to make public appearances in all of the state's 58 counties during his or her first four years in office.

Trouble is, rural legislators won't be able to muster the votes to pass it.