Californians revel in wacky politics. Early on, a State Supreme Court justice shot and killed our U.S. senator. Years later, voters in a frenzy turned out en masse to send a song-and-dance man to Washington. They encored that by electing to the Senate a college president whose chief claim to fame was that he unplugged a microphone at a student protest rally. All that will be topped in 2006 by a smart lady who’s quietly laying a foundation for a campaign to put herself in the governor’s mansion in next fall’s election. Wait a minute. She would already be in the governor’s mansion if California had one. Her husband is the current governor, and first lady Maria Shriver is on track to succeed him after next November’s balloting. That would make Arnold First Girlie-man. Shriver, with ties to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and the Kennedy clan, is not even a declared candidate at this point. Not a problem. The two announced candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in June are without popular appeal or name recognition. Most Democrats couldn’t name either one. With her celebrity as a drawing card and her credentials as a shrewd politico well established, but without the stain attached to a professional politician, Maria’s ascent will follow this timetable: In June’s gubernatorial primary, two major candidates and a handful of also-rans badly split the Democratic vote so Maria wins with a narrow plurality. Despite a respectable showing by state Sen. Tom McClintock, still smarting from his defeat in the recall election two years ago, Arnold takes the Republican nomination. He remains popular among the hayseeds still awed by his charisma. Media around the world make a big fuss about the upcoming campaign of husband against wife, with the distinct possibility that for the first time in American politics, a governor would be defeated for re-election by his own spouse. Editors frantically search the records to see if a wife has ever followed her husband as a state governor. (Nellie Ross won a special election in Wyoming in 1924, succeeding her husband, who died in office.) Amid growing Republican discontent and threats of an independent candidacy by McClintock, Schwarzenegger repudiates his nomination, withdraws from the race and endorses Maria. With growing bipartisan support, especially attracting Republican women, Maria storms to victory in November over several minor candidates and a last-minute nominee of the Republican State Central Committee. Far-fetched? Well, four years ago, who would have bet that a body-builder would become chief executive of the nation’s largest state? At least Maria knows how to pronounce California. Ralph E. Shaffer is a professor emeritus of history at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Write to him by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake But Maria Shriver is known to all Californians and can attract voters from both parties. Her candidacy would seemingly end the partisanship that citizens have decried the last two years. Quietly, while her husband has been the center of a firestorm that engulfed the state when the Gray Davis recall campaign erupted in 2003, Shriver has built bridges to constituencies representing diverse segments of California. Particularly high on her agenda are women’s groups and major business organizations. Among her many functions, Shriver runs the California Governor’s Conference for Women and Families, sponsor of a highly publicized women’s assembly earlier this year. She virtually controls Sacramento’s state museum. Her name and picture are all over the museum’s Web page, and exhibits prominently feature products she created or endorsed. The most intriguing item on display is an Armani gown labeled as the style likely to be worn by a future female governor of the state. Hmm, who could that be?