Part Motivator, Part Terminator?

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Eleven minutes, 56 seconds.

Governor Schwarzenegger's State of the State address was short... pretty much focused singularly on the state's fiscal disaster... and vintage Arnold, with a pat on the back and a wagging finger all at the same time.

State of the State speeches are always some odd blend of an address to the legislators sitting in the Assembly chamber and a conversation with the presumed larger audience of average Californians listening or watching at home. That split audience has led many governors to paint with broad strokes, finding ways to blend a general message with specifics that almost everyone can agree are worthy goals.

But Schwarzenegger has often struggled with that balancing act, occasionally throwing out some populist red meat lines that bomb with his live, legislative audience.

Today's speech was more serious and somber than most (that in itself is likely challenging for the eternally optimistic guv). But just when Schwarzenegger had made it clear that now's not the time for fighting, he threw a bit of a jab.

"If you don't mind, let me just make a little suggestion," is how he began.

With that, the governor threw out the idea, already floated by some legislative critics, to enact a "no deal, no paycheck" system for the Legislature in the event of a summer budget impasse.

And then, silence.

"I thought that this line would get a great applause in this hall but I understand why not," said Schwarzenegger.

Democrats focused on that passage as the one part of the speech they thought was off track. And in fairness to the guv, it was a mild rapping on the knuckles. Even so, it reminded many of the Arnold of Days Gone By... the "outsider" who always reminded lawmakers he could go directly to the people for "action, action, action" if nothing happened in Sacramento. That's part of his legacy -- the payoffs and pitfalls of sometimes being a "party of one," to borrow the phrase.

And surely one pitfall is how hard it can be to get divided legislators to unite, even when angry interest groups take a whack at every proposal that's floated or debated.

With budget negotiations now in full swing, perhaps the best thing the governor did in his 2009 State of the State was make the event short and sweet, and get back to negotiating. On that front, it looks like the speech was a hit.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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