November 10, 2005
Live by the Ballot, Die by the Ballot

By Debra Saunders

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.

After Gov. 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 looks.

Their biggest 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.

Democrat 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.

I don't 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 this year.

I'm not 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.

If they believed that the state really needed these measures to right itself, that conviction was never communicated to the voters.

Say what 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.

The governor's 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.

In August, 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.

Salazar 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.'"

Sure. It 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.)

Now, all 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 be re-elected."

Hmmmm. Voters 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.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

Debra Saunders

Author Archive
Email Author
Print This Article
Send Article To a Friend

More Commentary

The New Old Europe - David Warren
A Bridge the Senate Could Not Cross - R. Cohen
The Impact of Virginia - Robert Novak

More From Debra Saunders
French Roast
No Clemency for Tookie
Parents Should Be Notified