The Magazine

Propositioned by Arnold

The Governator puts his political reputation on the ballot.

Nov 7, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 08 • By BILL WHALEN
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Education. Proposition 74 would extend the period before a California teacher gains tenure from a mere two years to five years. The California Teachers Association is rallying to kill it, but the union has already blown through $50 million this summer filling TV airwaves with anti-Arnold ads. So, the CTA raised its members' dues to come up with another $60 million and has been negotiating a $40 million line of credit (in addition to an outstanding $20 million credit line). If Prop. 74 passes, look for other states to express their frustration with the slow pace of education reform.

Union Clout. Organized labor will have spent well over $100 million in the special election by the time it's over, with the unions' top priority being the defeat of Prop. 75. Nationally, Big Labor has fallen on hard times: internal rifts, losses in the last two presidential elections, fewer water-carriers in Congress. If Prop. 75 passes, it will be another major loss for the unions, seriously undermining their political influence in the country's most populous state. On the other hand, handing Schwarzenegger a defeat would lend the unions a big psychological boost heading into next year's congressional midterm election.

Fiscal Conservatism. Proposition 76's success may hinge on this question: After a decade of profligate spending both in Washington and state capitals, do voters still care about budget restraint? If Prop. 76 passes, despite a fierce attack from the teachers' union and other public-employee fronts, anti-pork reform could end up as a popular entrant in next year's congressional races.

Incumbency. It's no surprise that both incumbent Republicans and Democrats oppose the anti-gerrymandering Proposition 77. The "no" side, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has tried to link the ballot measure to former House Majority leader Tom DeLay and the Texas redistricting controversy. If Prop. 77 passes, it will suggest that the DeLay controversy is a nonstarter, even in a Texas-loathing, deep-blue state like California.

Prescription Drugs. Overshadowed by the Arnold-union shootout is an $80 million campaign by pharmaceutical firms to kill Proposition 79, which would create a state-run drug discount program for low-income adults and children. The "no" message is simple: Don't put bureaucrats in charge of medical decisions. If Prop. 79 suffers a resounding defeat, that will bode poorly for Hillary Clinton in 2008.

In the last two California elections without statewide candidates on the ballot--1979 and 1993--turnout was no higher than 37 percent of registered voters (turnout for the recall election was 61 percent). Some strategists see a turnout as low as 35 percent, or about 5.5 million votes. That's good news for Schwarzenegger, as Republicans in California historically turn out at higher levels than Democrats. And it creates this dilemma for the unions: how to run a negative campaign that turns out the union vote, but doesn't turn off a disenchanted electorate (according to one statewide survey, 73 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents are anti-election).

For the second time in two years, Schwarzenegger seeks to reverse California's political law of gravity--turning unpopular initiatives into winners. Going back to November 2002, it's the fifth time he's played a featured role on the California ballot. In a land not averse to sequels, the November special election tests whether the governor still has that box-office magic.

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he follows California and national politics. He has been a consultant for Steve Poizner both on Proposition 77 and Poizner's 2004 Assembly campaign.