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Schwarzenegger's New Idea

If American trends still truly start in California, then keep an eye on Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The new California governor expects "cooperation, goodwill, [and] new ideas" to become the operating norm in one of the nation's most polarized state capitals.

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Indeed, the election shocked Democrats who control the legislature. Voters were clearly angry at the status quo in Sacramento, and now want elected leaders to solve for them a contradiction that pervades much of American society: People want many public services and benefits but not the additional taxes to pay for them.

To solve that contradiction, one of Mr. Schwarzenegger's "new ideas" is to keep going back to the voters in ballot initiatives. For starters, he plans to ask lawmakers to place two measures on the March ballot: One would approve a bond issue to pay off the state deficit and the other would approve a constitutional amendment that would cap state spending.

Ballot initiatives are a populist way to govern, one that Californians have embraced since the 1970s. But they assume political wisdom emerges in mass voting on specific issues. History shows, however, that democracies fare better with elected representatives who act in the broadest interest and with skills of humble compromise and gentle persuasion.

Many of California's state legislators lack that perspective, preferring to cater to special groups that can deliver bloc votes or wads of campaign cash. The new governor has little choice but to use his strong mandate and ballot initiatives to break that old-style politics. If he succeeds, perhaps California will again spawn a trend.