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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Terminating State's Woes Is Not So Simple

Arnold Schwarzenegger's victory in the California recall election is testimony to the power of celebrity politics in the United States. Aside from his name, his oversized muscles and his long-suffering Kennedy dynasty spouse, Schwarzenegger is not the most obvious candidate to take over as governor of what Gray Davis, the hapless Democratic incumbent, liked to describe as the fifth largest economy in the world.

Unlike Ronald Reagan, a fellow Hollywood actor who served as governor of the Golden State and went on to greater political heights, Schwarzenegger is a political ingenu. He is a social liberal and a fiscal conservative with a soft spot for environmentalists. He does not fit any obvious political label. He is most emphatically not one of the rock-ribbed Republicans who once dominated California politics. Yet these unconventional qualities are precisely those that helped him to victory over Davis and assorted publicity-seekers and oddballs.

Many have deplored the crude mechanism of the recall. The process offers a chance for millionaires, such as Schwarzenegger, to manipulate the political agenda. More seriously, the recall undermined the legitimacy of a governor who had secured a popular mandate just 11 months before. However weak his recent record of vacillation and pandering to vested interests, Davis deserved more time.

However, Governor-elect Schwarzenegger's victory -- with more votes than Davis got last year -- gives him a popular mandate to tackle what is arguably the biggest crisis the state has faced in more than a century. The state budget deficit is at least $8 billion. Millions of jobs have been lost since the dotcom bust. Education standards are a disgrace. Skilled people are moving to other states.

Moreover, by clearly rejecting Cruz Bustamante, the Democratic establishment's alternative to Davis, voters sent a strong signal to the do-nothing Democrat-dominated legislature. They want co-operation not confrontation.

Schwarzenegger refused during his brief campaign to discuss how he would bridge the deficit or remedy the state's long-term malaise. These problems cannot simply be terminated. Nor is it obvious how his opposition to higher property taxes helps him in this respect. He might want to have another word with Warren Buffett, his economic adviser.

The wider lessons of the California recall are less clear. Some Democrats see the popular revolt against a fiscally irresponsible administration as bad news for President George W. Bush. Republican strategists herald the Schwarzenegger victory as a signal that Bush will take the huge electoral prize of California in next year's presidential race. In practice, neither claim may hold up. The recall verdict may be no more than the triumph of a populist over an incumbent, a trend in Western democracies from the United States to France and the Netherlands.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The Financial Times.