Sacramento was the place to be this past weekend. Lance Armstrong was in town for time trials in the Tour of California, Gov. Schwarzenegger was in his office trying to get his fellow Republicans in the Assembly and the Senate in line behind his budget, and some 2,500 high school students had descended upon our state capital for the 61st California Youth & Government Model Legislature and Court.

While I’m happy to report that the Y&G delegates (especially the two dozen or so members of the Santa Monica delegation) handled themselves and their business in a manner that makes me optimistic about the future, the other two came out of the weekend looking like bumbling idiots.

Lance left his one-of-a-kind $10,000 bike in a truck parked behind his hotel on Saturday night and woke up to find it gone on Sunday morning, and Arnold had his bluff called by Republican Sen. Dave Cox of Fair Oaks and now has to either fire 10-20,000 state workers (many of whom live in Cox’s district) or go hat-in-hand to Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria to secure his vote. For Schwarzenegger, who has achieved most things in his life through the force of his will, to be punked like this has got to be personally and professionally humiliating — and it’s time for him to fight back.

It will only take three Republicans in the Assembly and three Republicans in the Senate to pass this budget (and all three Assembly votes as well as two Senate votes are in place), so it shouldn’t be this hard to make a deal. Despite the fact that the bill contains about $14 billion in tax increases (and most GOP lawmakers have taken an anti-tax pledge), Schwarzenegger and the Republican leadership merely need one of their members in the Senate to come along with them to avoid economic seppoku. That should be Cox, who on Saturday said, “We cannot close this budget gap with cuts alone. Now, more than ever, we must … not shy away from making the tough, but necessary, choices to balance the budget.”

If you don’t speak politician, when the 70-year-old, term-limited Cox refers to “tough but necessary choices,” he’s talking to his Republican colleagues and saying we can’t simply borrow and cut our way out of this mess. He’s saying Republicans will have to recognize that their pledge not to increase taxes may be popular with the right-wing talk radio crowd, but isn’t workable in the real world. It’s clear that on some level, he understands the problem and the solution. What is less certain is what it’s going to take to get him on board — and it’s Gov. Schwarzenegger’s job to find out, then make a deal to secure Cox’s vote. Arnold’s legacy in California and his political future, whatever it may be, depend on it.

The alternative to Cox is Sen. Maldonado, though they are both ideologues in similar ways. Cox, who wouldn’t vote for the bill, but was frustrated by inaction in a Senate session Sunday night, seems to be illogically ambivalent.

The 42-year-old Maldonado, who has been involved in electoral politics from the tender age of 26, imagines himself as a crusader for Latinos. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem as Cox’s waffling on the tax issue if not for the fact that the Santa Maria senator sought Schwarzenegger’s endorsement when he ran for state controller in the 2006 GOP primary and didn’t get it.

He’s had his proverbial panties in a bunch ever since. In a slightly-veiled reference to the fact that he voted for the governor’s minimum wage increase earlier that year, Maldonado talked after his primary loss about a “lack of respect” saying, “Our governor cares about one thing only, and that’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he needs Latinos, Latinos are always there for him. When Latinos need him, the answer’s been ‘no.’”

Though Maldonado later apologized, it was easy for him to vote against this budget when he found out that it contained $1 million for new furniture in the state controller’s office. At the end of the day, however, the man is a strawberry farmer turned legislator representing about 2 percent of California from his Central Valley district. I’m not saying he shouldn’t be taken seriously, but I am saying the governor shouldn’t let him stand in the way of a budget being passed.

It’s time for the governor to use the power of his office to shame Cox and/or Maldonado into abandoning their ideologies and grudges and doing the right thing for California. After all, if he’s going to blow off his ceremonial duty to meet with the 61st Youth Governor so he can get a budget passed, Arnold had better do his actual duty and get his fellow Republicans in line.

Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider living in Santa Monica who is shopping his book, “Word In Edgewise: The Collected Opinions Of America’s Smartest Columnist” to forward-thinking publishers. He can be reached at

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