Of special interest to Arnold

A personal note, warning that the path to Sacramento is fraught with danger. Don’t bring any baggage.

Dear Arnold,

I feel I can be frank with you because I sat only 12 feet away as you told 160 journalists you wouldn’t take special-interest money, and I admired your gleaming alligator-look shoes. But now, you are accepting scads of money, some from special interests, and that’s why we’re having this little chat.

Negative TV ads in the recall race had not hit by press time, but I would be surprised if nobody hits you for saying, “I am going to Sacramento without any baggage. … I haven’t sold out to any special-interest groups. I haven’t been taking any money from anyone.”

You define special-interest groups only as the hard-core pressure groups who are permanent fixtures in Sacramento, such as government workers unions and giant trade groups. You say you’ve refused to make promises to anybody sending you money.

Arnold, voters may not grasp the distinction you are making between special interests and the rich business leaders backing you.

You could end up looking as immoral as Gray Davis. You’ve accepted fat sums from developers like Irvine Co. Chief Executive Officer Donald Bren, Univision Chief Executive Officer Jerry Perenchio and homebuilder William Lyon.

These guys have sought favors in Sacramento in the past and are likely to seek them from you.

And though most of your money comes from individuals, you are taking dough from some interest groups, such as the wine industry. Wine peddlers will go ballistic if the Legislature passes a higher tax on booze, and they will come to you if you’re the governor.

But before we talk about what you should do about your veracity problem, I’ll concede your basic viewpoint. The huge groups you refuse to take money from do indeed dominate the scene in Sacramento, and their power is mighty.

In fact, union czars who represent government workers, and scheming trade organizations for trial lawyers, health-maintenance groups and bankers have greased Sacramento with so much money that many of the 1,600 mostly needless laws passed this year—including several now hurriedly being signed by Davis—were written expressly for such groups.

Let’s review some, shall we?

• Senate Bill 2 is one of the most hard-left bills to have a chance at becoming law here in 25 years. A confidential draft I received shows Senate Bill 2 would force small and medium businesses with 20 or more workers to pay 80 percent of their employees’ health insurance. Big companies with 201 employees or more would be forced to pay 80 percent for the whole family. Some of these details may change before the bill is approved.

This almost certainly will spawn layoffs as small businesses scramble to get below the 20-employee cutoff. Firms would have to find $3,000 annually per worker, if you assume $250 monthly covers 80 percent of an insurance premium. Watch for businesses to stream out of state.

A lobbying source closely tracking this tells me that key details of Senate Bill 2, by state Senator John Burton, were written by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

It’s my opinion that SEIU’s top bosses don’t care if they wipe out 200,000 jobs. They will merely blame President Bush. They are politicians, and their goal is to impress workers. They’ll say, “We won free health care for you! We made history!”

Davis wants to make history, too, by keeping his job. Around the time the AFL-CIO announced, on August 26, that 1,300 unions would spend millions defending Davis, I have it on good authority that Davis was discussing a union deal to sign Senate Bill 2.

Even though the arrogantly blatant SEIU just sent the wholly owned Davis a check for $250,000, Davis should veto Senate Bill 2 when he gets it. He knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the cost of “free” health care from employers will be severe.

• Davis says he is signing Senate Bill 18, which gives the obscure Native American Heritage Commission the power to stop development in California if Indian tribes feel construction interferes with a sacred site.

Initially, this turkey included a five-mile zone around each sacred site, in which tribes could challenge development. Construction could have been subject to tribal challenges if ancient sites existed five miles down the freeway.

Senate Bill 18 was so bad it was stunning, and opposition was intense. But Sacramento is Backward World. Its authors responded by giving tribes the power to stop development even farther from sacred sites. Now, there’s no five-mile limit at all.

Mull that one over, Arnold.

The bizarre bill also allows the heritage commission’s proceedings to be secret. The press and public can be barred during much of the debate. The media won’t sit still for that too long before the first suit is filed.

Davis would never sign such a bill, except for one thing: The newly rich tribes are spreading casino money in the recall race. Davis wants their cash. One tribe has already poured $330,000 into the campaign of Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante.

• Remember how Davis and Democratic leaders vowed to reform workers’ compensation because California’s is the most expensive and provides almost the worst benefits?

I predicted the Dems would buckle to trial lawyers, unions and others who are bleeding the workers’ compensation system dry. Sadly, I was right.

Led by Burton and Senator Richard Alarcón, a Los Angeles Democrat who rarely acts without union approval, almost all serious reforms were killed. Now, a Workers’ Compensation Conference Committee is shirking big reform, as well. Burton thinks if he offers $3 billion or so in workers’ compensation savings, business will accept $3 billion in new costs he is drooling to hoist on them under Senate Bill 2.

That’s not relief, math flunkees! It doesn’t touch the $11 billion in soaring costs of recent years.

Alarcón and Davis were too gutless to push through the two most crucial reforms, which were stopped by unions and trial lawyers—a fact newspapers consistently fail to report.

California’s nutty rules allow workers to determine if they are injured. Only three states let workers decide this important matter—and, naturally, California relies most heavily on this incredibly subjective and grossly abused rule.

In 47 normal states, determining if a worker is injured isn’t up to the worker because that would be crazy! These states use “objective standards”—basically, an independent doctor utilizing American Medical Association (AMA) guidelines. But in California, special-interest groups pressured the politicos years ago to make it illegal to use AMA guidelines. Good grief.

Plus, when we determine if a worker is permanently disabled, California law encourages lawsuits. So, 50 percent of all California workers’ compensation cases go to court. The resulting cost is estimated in the billions. In Utah, where objective standards are used instead, just 4 percent of cases hit court.

With all his pandering to special interests, as seen in so many awful or ineffective new laws, you’d think Davis would have a thick skin about charges that he is having a “fire sale” before a September 12 legal deadline he faces to sign bills into law.

But Davis press aide Steve Maviglio was so upset by a recent column I wrote on Davis giveaways that Maviglio fired off a letter claiming I got a lot wrong. Hardly. Maviglio denied that Davis has flip-flopped to rush through a driver’s license for illegal immigrants, denied that Davis rushed to appoint judges to long-open spots and denied Davis is tripling the car tax.

To quote Davis on September 30, 2002, when he vetoed a bill to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants: “The tragedy of September 11 made it abundantly clear that the driver’s license is more than just a license to drive; it is one of the primary documents we use to identify ourselves.” (The pandering Davis is now signing a license bill with fewer security features than in 2002.) As to the judiciary, Maviglio tried to obscure the sudden appointments of six powerful appellate judges in one week by lumping them in with year-to-date appointments to all lower and upper courts. In fact, two of the jobs sat open eight months; two others were empty more than two years. Finally, if the car tax isn’t being tripled, Davis ought to hold a huge press conference. News outlets statewide say it is being tripled.

So, you see, Arnold, I feel your pain about the dirt in Sacramento. And I think there’s a way out of the dilemma you created for yourself.

You should hire somebody to check your campaign givers. If your givers have lobbied, financed or otherwise dabbled in measures before the Legislature in the last few years, you should graciously send the money back.

I doubt you’ll take my advice. But one can always hope for the unexpected from a political mutt like you, who, in line with a majority of Californians, supports gay domestic benefits, prayer in schools, a ban on partial-birth abortion, medical marijuana and parental consent for teen abortions.

Davis, by contrast, is as predictable as ever. Some media outlets were leaked a memo in which Davis’ steel magnolia wife, Sharon, suggested that certain well-known Democrats try to manipulate various journalists into blaming you, Arnold, for violence in America.

The California media might have repeated Davis’ spin breathlessly, but somebody trumped the couple’s weird plan by leaking it. You, Arnold, lucked out.

Something tells me you will not be so lucky if negative ads hit, quoting you as saying, “I don’t want to take any contributions from the special interests.” We’ll all be watching the tube rather intently, to hear your answer to that one.