As Gov. Arnold Schwarzen-egger continues to threaten a special election next November to press his pro-corporate agenda, a broad and growing coalition is fighting back with positive initiatives to benefit California’s ordinary people.

The Alliance for a Better California (ABC), a 2-million-strong coalition bringing together public workers, including firefighters, nurses and a growing list of community organizations, is supporting ballot measures for cheaper prescription drugs, a car-buyer’s bill of rights, and the reregulation of electricity.

A fourth proposal, a constitutional amendment, aims to close a loophole used by corporations to block regulatory fees needed to clean up pollution.

“In contrast to the governor’s measures, which have a right-wing agenda, all these initiatives will actually protect people’s lives,” said Bryan Blum, political director for the California Labor Federation, which plays a pivotal role in the ABC coalition.

Blum pointed out that the first three initiatives are all very similar to bills Schwarzenegger vetoed last year after taking very substantial donations from big corporate interests.

The California Labor Federation is also warning its members against signing petitions for two of the worst measures backed by the governor. One would privatize public workers’ pensions, and the other — a cousin of Proposition 226 that was soundly beaten in 1998 — is intended to bar public workers from waging a political fightback against the big corporations.

Blum emphasized that the struggle over the ballot initiatives has national implications. “Schwarzenegger’s plan to privatize public workers’ pensions is part and parcel of the Bush administration’s drive to privatize Social Security,” he said, adding that a victory for Schwarzenegger would also give added impetus for privatizing public workers’ pensions in other states.

Backing the governor’s agenda to freeze spending while rejecting tax hikes, make teachers’ employment and pay depend on “merit,” privatize public worker pensions and take redistricting away from the Legislature is the big business-dominated Citizens to Save California. Among its leaders are California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg and California Business Property Association leader Rex Hime.

A special election is estimated to cost taxpayers up to $70 million. At last count over 60 potential initiatives were under preparation, most of them from pro-corporate forces. The resulting campaigns are a bonanza for “election industry” firms.

Late last week a Superior Court judge ruled that politicians can raise unlimited funds in support of ballot measures. The decision overturned the Fair Political Practices Commission’s finding that Prop. 34, passed in 2000 to limit donations to candidates and elected officials, also applied to ballot initiative committees.

In other developments, two recent polls show the governor’s popularity plummeting. One, commissioned by the unions, showed his job approval rating had sunk to 42 percent, from 60 percent a year ago. The other, initiated by the Democratic Party, found a 46 percent approval rating, down 10 percent from last month. Analysts say voters are turned off by the governor’s calling nurses and teachers “special interests,” while at the same time raking in big donations from his corporate buddies.

Meanwhile, unions of firefighters, sheriffs and police are expressing appreciation for the support they are receiving from management associations in those fields, which have joined the fight against privatizing pensions.

mbechtel @