Emergency exits

As an actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger must have been coached in the dangers of hyperbole, of overplaying his part. As a politician, the governor should have learned this lesson by now too. His overuse of so-called “emergency” rules and decrees has hit a sour note these past months, and helps to explain his 10-percent drop in popularity among California voters.

It all started with the crisis over lunch breaks. The governor proposed an emergency rule that would have allowed companies to keep workers on the job for more than six hours without a meal break. Thankfully, not too long ago, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement retracted this one.

Next, the governor issued an emergency order to suspend a law that requires more nurses in hospital wards and emergency rooms. In his biggest mistake yet, Schwarzenegger proceeded to tell an audience of 10,000 women that nurses were merely “special interests,” while bragging that he was “always kicking their butts.” Uh-oh. California voters couldn’t quite believe what they’d heard. He said what?! about the people who care for our sick and dying, the ones who remain at their sides long after the doctors have moved on to the next patient?

Well, Schwarzenegger should have known better than to act out with the nurses. The rowdy, effective members of the California Nurses Association began dogging him like a bad disease. In January, nurses carried coffins to the Capitol while a New Orleans jazz band played a funeral march. They had a small plane with a protest banner fly over his Super Bowl party in Santa Monica. They attended his local film premiere in nursing scrubs. After a Sacramento judge ruled a few weeks ago that the governor “misused the emergency order” in relation to the nurses, CNA members gleefully sang “Arnold fought the law and the law won” outside the courthouse.

Somehow, despite all this, the governor still overacts.

Last week, he sought to enact an emergency rule that will allow the state to expand the scope of what assets can be collected from Medi-Cal recipients after they die. Federal law permits the state to recoup the cost of Medi-Cal benefits from certain elderly people who die with assets, but now the governor wants the families of Medi-Cal recipients to repay the state for the cost of home-care services. Logically, the state had decided not to recoup such expenses since home-care saves the state loads of money by keeping the elderly out of far more expensive nursing homes. We’ll see how this one plays out in the courts.

Face it, Gov. Schwarzenegger: Getting your way by emergency decree is not governing—it’s a cynical governing tactic that undermines the people and the Legislature because no public hearings are held and no input is sought. It’s time to declare the emergencies off-limits, time to work in good faith with the Legislature to solve the state’s myriad problems. You can’t govern by repeatedly crying wolf. That only gets you eaten for lunch.