Californians Say No to Schwarzenegger (continued)
by Mark Martin, Carla Marinucci and Lynda Gledhill
A measure that would have made changes to the state's electricity market was failing, while an initiative that would require girls 18 or under to notify their parents before getting an abortion was losing narrowly.
The election results appeared to be a major setback for Schwarzenegger, who called for the vote but never succeeded in convincing Californians that it was needed. The election sparked a political brawl that invigorated Democrats and labor unions, who mounted a relentless, yearlong attack that showed that even a governor who once appeared invincible is no match for nurses, teachers and firefighters.
Two years after an angry electorate looking for a new voice in Sacramento thrust Schwarzenegger into office, voters appear to have turned their anger back on him.
The governor clearly recognized that Tuesday night. Taking the stage in a huge ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Schwarzenegger did not concede. But he did reach out to his opponents -- thanking Californians for participating in the election and thanking those "who were so passionately vocal against us.''
The governor insisted Californians still want big changes, but seemed to acknowledge his "Year of Reform'' focused on the wrong things.
"We need more nurses, teachers, firefighters and police officers,'' said the governor, singling out the groups that had targeted him. "We need more affordable housing, more energy and more water. We need more of everything, and I recognize that we also need more bipartisan cooperation. I promise I will deliver that.''
"The people of California are sick and tired of all the fighting,'' he added.
In contrast to the somber mood in Schwarzenegger's camp, his opponents were jubilant.
Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters, raised a broom over his head as it became clear all four of Schwarzenegger's initiatives would fail, leading a party in a Sacramento hotel in chants of "Sweep!''
Democratic lawmakers were less strident.
While declaring that Schwarzenegger "took a wrong turn in January and we wasted a year,'' Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, pledged to work with Schwarzenegger next year.
"Win or lose, we have to put this behind us," he said. "I don't think anybody should be taking a victory lap."
Tuesday marked the end of a bitter and costly brawl that Schwarzenegger sparked in January, with a combative State of the State speech in which he predicted a "big political fight.''
The election became the costliest in state history, and Schwarzenegger sank more than $7 million of his own money into his losing effort.
The anti-Schwarzenegger coalition raised and spent more than $100 million against him. Both Prop. 75 and 76 were, to labor leaders, direct assaults aimed at tilting the balance of power in Sacramento.
Schwarzenegger campaigned for his initiatives by saying the election was a sequel to the recall. Labor and Democrats characterized the election as unnecessary and polarizing.
The anti-Schwarzenegger coalition was a vast, sophisticated political machine that played on public sympathies.
"You don't win many fights with nurses,'' noted Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College.
The California Teachers Association ran commercials complaining about his education budget. The California Nurses Association protested his appearances -- union leaders bragged this week that they have had a presence at more than 100 of Schwarzenegger's public events this year. Fittingly, the union staged a party in the same hotel as Schwarzenegger on Tuesday night.
The attacks seemed to work, cutting Schwarzenegger's approval rating among voters in half by June, according to statewide Field Polls. Only about a third of voters polled said they approve of the governor.
Schwarzenegger largely ignored the assault, something supporters say was a mistake.
"There are a lot of us who wanted him to fight back much earlier,'' said Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly, a conservative group.
Other stumbles also cost the governor.
Two of the four issues Schwarzenegger first promoted in January -- capping state expenses for public pensions and paying teachers based on merit instead of tenure -- were dropped.
And by spending much of the year raising money from corporate donors, and then running a campaign that featured mostly controlled events among GOP supporters, some political observers believe Schwarzenegger made it easier for foes to portray him as pushing a Republican agenda.
Issues like redistricting and teacher performance aren't necessarily partisan issues, noted Republican political consultant Kevin Spillane, but the governor's opponents were able to paint Schwarzenegger's entire agenda as a Republican power grab.
"His team seems to have played right into the hands of the opponents,'' said Spillane.
Ironically, observers said, the man who ousted former Gov. Gray Davis, who was the ultimate political insider, ran a sheltered campaign that never connected with the people Schwarzenegger claimed to represent.
"He's been hidden, and he's been packaged, and he clearly didn't learn the lesson of Gray Davis, which is you need to be out there talking to real people," said Darry Sragow, a longtime Democratic strategist.
Schwarzenegger stormed up and down the state in the last few weeks arguing that the special election was a sequel to the recall and that his initiatives were the tools he needed to fix a broken system. He also railed against "union bosses'' that he characterized as controlling the Capitol, saying yesterday "the government is no longer accountable to the people.''
Many political observers say Schwarzenegger tried to do too much.
"Too many issues and too many enemies,'' said Phil Trounstine, a former communications director for Davis and now director of the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University.