California Forum

Arnold Schwarzenegger says bipartisanship shouldn’t be a dirty word. It should be the job.

Schwarzenegger: 'Don't those conservative Republicans get the message?'

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger slammed Donald Trump's retreat from the world climate stage and challenged fellow Republicans to accept the science that spurred him to push cap-and-trade legislation.
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Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger slammed Donald Trump's retreat from the world climate stage and challenged fellow Republicans to accept the science that spurred him to push cap-and-trade legislation.

It’s hard to imagine the greatest country in the world without compromise.

In fact, it’s impossible.

Our foundational document, the Constitution, was an incredibly delicate balance between large states and small states, rural and urban citizens, industrialized and agricultural interests. The reason we have two houses of Congress is actually called “The Great Compromise.”

California is setting a functional example for the rest of the country. As gridlock overwhelms Washington, our Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown have worked together to get things done.

Lately, it seems compromise is out of style. Our national politics are all about ideology and bitter infighting, with lots of drama and no room for consensus. California, with all the competing interests and passions that go into governing this important state, has been a beacon of bipartisanship, and we want to keep it that way.

The founding fathers we idolize were full of passion for their different ideals – some of their bitter fights would not look out of place in today’s cable news – but when the time came to roll up their sleeves in Philadelphia and deliver for the future of our country, they sought common ground.

From climate change to immigration to voting rights to housing, California has important work to do, and the world is watching to see whether it’s possible anywhere in America any more for the two parties to work together. It’s time to embrace the role compromise has played in the unique history of the United States and acknowledge that the work of those we choose to represent us today is impossible without some give and take.

That doesn’t mean any of us should give up our deeply held beliefs, our passions, and our ideologies.

Republicans should continue to be Republicans, and Democrats should continue to be Democrats.

We run for office as proud Republicans and proud Democrats. But when we win, when the balloons drop and the party ends, it’s time to change our mindset. There is a reason that after we are elected, the party becomes an (R) or a (D) that follows our name and title, in parentheses.

Whether it’s governor, senator, or assemblymember, the title is what’s important. Once you’re elected, the office that you hold is meant to represent all of the people – not just your party.

It isn’t easy to shift gears to become a public servant and not a party servant, but in our system of government, it’s a necessity.

I remember countless negotiations in my office where the phrases “Everyone can’t get a 10, so we’re all going to be happy with a 7 or an 8” and “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of possible” were the backbone of deals that ultimately improved California.

No matter the compromise, there were always activists on both sides who were enraged. And that’s perfectly fine – the beauty of the American system is that everyone is given a voice and a vote. Those activists, while sometimes a thorn in our sides, are doing their jobs. Besides, you haven’t really experienced politics until someone puts up a giant billboard attacking you.

But that’s their job. Our legislators are representatives of the people, and their primary job is to negotiate and pass laws, not to shout and tweet.

If you want to serve your party, write a blog or join the party board. If you want to serve the people, you must be willing to let your party become a parenthetical, because your first responsibility is doing all of the people’s work.

And sometimes, that means compromise. It isn’t a dirty word. It’s the job.

California, as it tends to do, is leading the way by setting a functional example for the rest of the country. As gridlock overwhelms Washington, our Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown have worked together to get things done.

Most recently, I was proud that Assemblyman Chad Mayes and seven other Republicans came to the table to help the governor extend California’s historic cap and trade system. But compromise is a two-way street, and for this landmark environmental agreement to become a reality, the Democrats also had to give.

Because they came to the table and negotiated and compromised, the Republicans were able to deliver a deeply needed extension of the manufacturing tax credit, along with provisions to protect our important agricultural industry and put hard-earned money back in taxpayers’ pockets. It was a win for all Californians.

As our legislature returns to session, I hope that California will continue to be a model for the country. I hope that our Democratic and Republican leaders will continue to find the issues where they can work together instead of hiding in their ideological corners. I hope our Legislature remembers the lessons of our founding fathers.

You can have your bitter fights – trust me, it makes great television. But remember to get some work done, too.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the former governor of California. Reach him at @schwarzenegger.

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