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Awwwwnold has called for a special election to determine the fate

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  • Awwwwnold has called for a special election to determine the fate

    Simon: Schwarzenegger's Propositions: Voters May Surprise

    William E. Simon, Jr.

    Monday, Oct. 31, 2005

    Arnold Schwarzenegger recently invoked his constitutional powers and called for a special election to determine the fate of a number of important propositions.

    Schwarzenegger's high-stakes gambit has turned what would normally be a quiet off-year election day into a battle royale between competing ideas and interest groups and, most importantly, between reform and the status quo.

    Three Schwarzenegger-sponsored measures dealing with education, state spending, and redistricting will appear on the ballot, but this special election will be more complicated than that.

    Under the rules of California's initiative process, once propositions qualify they appear on the next available statewide ballot. So the governor's declaration clears the way for the appearance of both liberal and conservative measures impacting abortion, unions, prescription drugs, and electricity.

    Schwarzenegger's decision to move ahead with the special election is daring because it flies in the face of public opinion.

    An August poll revealed that 57 percent of voters in the state felt it should be called off and that the governor's approval rating is down to 36 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. The governor's opponents - Democrats and public employee unions in particular - smell blood in the water.

    Even some of the governor's allies have grown concerned by his team's largely ineffective response to the portrayal of spending restraint as "cruel and heartless" budget cuts.

    Instead of becoming Schwarzenegger's Waterloo, however, it's more likely that the special election will demonstrate anew his uncanny talent for staying ahead of his competitors.

    One reason: Although California's registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7.1 to 5.7 million, voters in this "blue state" have recently demonstrated that they're more open to Schwarzenegger's conservative reforms than current polling might suggest.

    Voters are unlikely to hold long-term grudges against Schwarzenegger simply for holding an election on important issues facing California; but he has to do a better job of explaining the urgent need for his reforms in a special election.

    The governor will get a definitive read on where the public stands on these ballot issues, which will help him craft both the reforms and the messages he will run on next year. Rather than wait until June 2006 (when the measures would have appeared on the ballot had he NOT called the special election), Schwarzenegger can clear the decks of these issues this fall and run an unfettered re-election campaign in 2006. In the process, he will force the opposition to deplete their campaign treasuries.

    A defeat for Schwarzenegger's measures on November 8 would be a painful blow. History shows that Californians are traditionally inclined to give their governors a second term regardless of the crises and controversies that may have occurred in the first term. No California governor has been denied a second term in 50 years.

    There will be two groups of measures on California's special election ballot - those pushed by the governor and those backed by others. Three were sponsored by the Schwarzenegger organization and his allies as part of the governor's "Year of Reform:"

    Proposition 74 - "Teacher Tenure" would increase the probationary period for new public school teachers from two- to five-consecutive years. It would also allow school districts to dismiss permanent teachers who receive two consecutive unsatisfactory performance evaluations. Although it deserves to pass, this is a far cry from the changes some envisioned.

    Proposition 76 - "Live Within Our Means." While not a spending cap per se, the initiative would limit state spending to the prior year's level plus an average of the previous three years' revenue growth. This initiative would also restore the authority of the governor to make mid-year spending cuts whenever spending outpaces revenue without having to return to the legislature, which refuses to impose any fiscal discipline on itself. Conservatives say the measure deserves to pass but, like Proposition 74, does not go far enough.

    Proposition 77 - "Redistricting" would end the conflict of interest inherent in the current system, which allows incumbent legislators to redraw their own districts after each 10-year census. If enacted, a panel of retired judges would draw the lines, which would create more competitive districts, and thus more accountable to the public. Incumbents of both parties oppose the measure, preferring the status quo.

    In addition to the governor's proposals, Californians will cast judgment on another basket of propositions. The ramifications of these measures must not be overlooked when evaluating the value of the special election.

    Proposition 73 - "Parental Notification" would require that a physician notify a parent or legal guardian of a pregnant minor at least 48 hours before an abortion is performed. Currently, parental consent is required to use a tanning booth or get pierced ears.

    Proposition 75 - "Paycheck Protection" would require the consent of public sector union employees before their dues could be used for political purposes. Paycheck Protection promises to reduce the influence of public-employee union bosses on policy and spending priorities.

    Governor Schwarzenegger has not yet endorsed this measure, but it is the only one polling with majority support. "Paycheck Protection" could provide the governor with his most noteworthy victory, should he get behind it.

    Propositions 78 & 79 - "Prescription Drugs." These are two measures dealing with prescription drug prices. Proposition 78, supported by the pharmaceutical industry, seeks lower prices for those in need through voluntary discounts on the part of drug manufacturers. Proposition 79, on the other hand, mandates lower prices.

    Proposition 80 - "Electricity Re-Regulation" would repeal key provisions of the 1996 electricity deregulation by granting the California Public Utilities Commission the authority to control and regulate electric service providers. This measure would lock in monopoly control of electricity by utilities and forbid California consumers and businesses from shopping around for relief from some of the highest, most uncompetitive power costs in the nation.

    Democracy in Action Most Democrats, liberals, unions, and the political status quo hate this special election. After all, if voters go against them, their impact on the legislature and the public till could be significantly challenged. On the other side of the aisle, some conservatives as well as the mainstream Republican base are struggling to muster enthusiasm for the Schwarzenegger reform agenda. In important respects, it is a pale reflection of the bold ideas he outlined in January.

    The bottom line is this: A public debate on critical issues such as the state financial crisis, the quality of teaching, and parental notification before a child gets an abortion is a worthy exercise in democracy.

    We need more discussion, and citizen involvement in the battle of ideas in California. If this special election results in the enactment of payroll protection or fair redistricting - or both - then conservatives will conclude that Governor Schwarzenegger has done California a great service.

    Observers believe that enacting these measures would represent landmark steps toward political and legislative accountability, which in turn could lead to a new season of much-needed reform in California.

    Bill Simon, former California gubernatorial candidate, serves as co-chairman of William E. Simon & Sons, a private investment firm and merchant bank.
    --Official Lounge Sponsor of Coach Mike Anderson, Colby Rasmus, and Pearl Jam.
    --Suck it cubbies.
    --Thanks to RBB for my kick ace avatar!!** --RETIRE #51!!!
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