California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped the proverbial other shoe June 13 with a long-anticipated announcement that a special election headlining his proposed ballot measures will be held Nov. 8.
The governor made his announcement, foreshadowed in his January State of the State message, from the security of the Ronald Reagan Cabinet Room in the Capitol, buffered from hundreds of union and community protesters marching and chanting outside.
Calling Schwarzenegger’s decision “bad for politics and bad for California,” state Labor Federation head Art Pulaski said in a statement that during nearly two years in office, the governor has “devolved into a Bush-lite conservative politician who breaks his promises and sells out working people to satisfy his special interest corporate donors.” Pulaski vowed the state’s labor movement “will fight to win and we will never give in.”
In persisting in calling for the special election, Schwarzenegger is betting his political future on his ability to buck a trend that has seen his approval rating plunge from 60 percent in January to 40 percent in recent polls. The three ballot measures he specifically supported — a spending cap to force across-the-board cuts in services when outgo exceeds income, measures to place political redistricting in the hands of retired judges, and lengthening the time needed for teachers to achieve tenure — are not faring well in polls, either. A Public Policy Institute of California poll in May showed only a third of voters favor a special election this year.
In his response, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez said the governor is investing “everything in an election about nothing. … There is nothing here that reforms any aspect of California, that improves quality of life in this state for anybody.”
Special concern is being expressed about the implications of the governor’s proposed spending cap. The Los Angeles Times quoted Jean Ross, director of the California Budget Project, as calling the move “a dramatic shift of power from the legislative branch to the governor.” The broad Health Access coalition warned that the initiative would grant Schwarzenegger “and all future governors the power to make unilateral cuts to health and other vital services.”
Other measures expected on the November ballot:
• A virtual ban on political action spending by public workers’ unions, which Schwarzenegger has not publicly endorsed but is widely believed to support;
• A requirement for parental notification when women younger than 18 seek an abortion;
• A labor-backed measure to re-regulate the state’s electricity system;
• Two competing measures — one backed by labor and community groups and the other by the pharmaceutical industry — to lower prescription drug costs.