November 10, 2005
Live by the Ballot, Die by the Ballot
Team Arnold lost his Big Four measures -- Propositions 74 through
77 -- on the California ballot Tuesday because this band of political
hired guns deserved to lose. They ran a cynical campaign.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's big recall-election win in 2003 and his
successful fight in 2004 against some well-funded ballot measures
-- like the two Big Casino measures and a three-strikes makeover
that rode high in the polls until he opposed it -- the team figured
he could sell anything to the California voter. So they didn't
do a careful job of lining up initiatives with curb appeal to
voters. They campaigned as if they could skate by on his Hollywood
mistake was to use the initiative process as a substitute for
governing. For all his tough talk, Schwarzenegger has failed to
pass a budget that spends less or even as much as the state takes
in. That is a failing. Worse, the muscle man asked the voters
to solve the budget problem by passing his "Live Within Our
Means" measure, Proposition 76. It could have been dubbed:
Stop Me Before I Spend Too Much.
Roger Salazar of the "No" camp got it right when he
noted that California voters felt "no sense of urgency"
and hence saw no reason for the special election. They wanted
Schwarzenegger to govern, not to make them do homework.
understand why Team Arnold was so blase about the disinformation
thrown against it. Why didn't they hustle to set the record straight?
Take the charge that Schwarzenegger took away $2 billion from
public schools, when state school spending increased by $3 billion
saying members of Team Arnold didn't put in long hours on the
campaign trail. I am saying that they didn't have one vital ingredient:
true belief in the cause.
believed that the state really needed these measures to right
itself, that conviction was never communicated to the voters.
you will about the "no" forces, but you must admit this:
They believed in what they were doing, and never left anyone in
doubt on that score.
team, in contrast, believed they were the most clever minds in
the room. It didn't help that the California electorate wants
the impossible -- more government without paying for it -- and
the public-employee unions were ready to tell them they could
have it. They could wail about how Schwarzenegger was not spending
promised money on schools without having to discuss who would
pay for higher school funding.
the California Teachers Association dropped plans to place a measure
on the June 2006 ballot that would have raised business property
taxes. This robbed Team Arnold of the opportunity to explain that
their opponents want a big, broad tax increase.
sees the November sweep as an anti-Arnold sweep, and I think he
is right. Bob Stern of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental
Studies in Los Angeles believes voters should have looked at the
merits of each measure and then voted up or down, but, "On
the other hand, if you don't like Schwarzenegger, if you want
to bring him down a peg, then it made perfect sense to vote 'no.'"
made perfect sense -- if you take away the context. In 2002, voters
re-elected Gray Davis. In 2003, they recalled Davis and elected
Schwarzenegger because he promised to change Sacramento and revoke
the vehicle-license fee reinstated by the Davis administration.
Two years later, California voters rejected Schwarzenegger because
he tried to curb state spending.
It is worth
noting that Schwarzenegger began sinking in the polls, in part,
because he started doing what it takes to balance the state budget
without raising taxes. (Yeah, I know, the slide also followed
Schwarzenegger's big-mouth retort to nurses that he had kicked
their butts, and that allowed them to kick his butt.)
Sacramento knows that next year's budget will include a $4 billion
shortfall. But don't expect both parties to come together to fix
it. As Stern noted: "My concern is that the Democrats will
not want to give him anything for next year because they want
a Democratic governor in 2007. If he looks like a leader, he may
have great things to look forward to next year: Polls show they
hate the Legislature more than the governor, but now they've weakened
the governor. The state still has a structural budget deficit,
and the voters have defeated measures that could have fixed the
budget without raising taxes. That's really sticking it to Schwarzenegger.
2005 Creators Syndicate