California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered a major political setback when voters decisively rejected two of his ballot proposals, including his centrepiece plan to slow state spending, in a special election that became a referendum on his leadership.
Schwarzenegger’s proposal to strip state politicians of their power to carry out redistricting also failed.
A third Schwarzenegger-backed measure was also trailing; it would make teachers work five years instead of two to pass probation.
The only one of the governor’s four “year of reform” proposals with a lead - by a slim margin – would require public-employee unions to get members’ permission before their dues could be used for political purposes.
A smiling Schwarzenegger appeared before supporters in Beverly Hills late yesterday and said he hoped he might win at least a partial victory.
“No matter what the results are … tomorrow the victories and the losses will be behind us,”
Schwarzenegger said. “No matter what … we’re going to continue to fight for California.”
The special election represented the biggest test yet of a faltering Schwarzenegger’s leadership – with the outcome either blotting his hopes for re-election next year or providing fresh evidence of his populist clout. It pitted the Republican actor-turned-governor against two of California’s dominant political forces – public employee unions and Democrats who control the Legislature.
Schwarzengger, whose popularity has hit record lows in recent polls, cast the special election as the next step of the 2003 recall election that propelled him to office. Voters, he said, sent him to Sacramento to rebuild the state’s economy and fix a moribund political system.
In an appeal on the eve of the election, likely to be among the most expensive in state history, Schwarzenegger urged voters to “give me tools to reform the system.”
But voters sent another message.
Proposition 76, which would have capped state spending, was defeated, losing 61-39% with 45% of precincts reporting.
Proposition 77, which would have transferred the power to draw legislative boundaries from politicians to three retired judges, failed by a slightly smaller but still substantial margin.
Schwarzenegger’s proposal to make it harder for public school teachers to get tenure, Proposition 74, was losing 52-48%.
His final proposal, Proposition 75, which would curb unions’ ability to raise campaign cash, had a slim lead.
In all, voters weighed eight ballot initiatives, half of which Schwarzenegger embraced as part of his “year of reform.” The other four propositions focused on abortion rights, energy regulation and prescription drug costs.
The secretary of state had projected that 42% of the state’s 15.8 million registered voters would cast ballots. That would be less than the 61% turnout for the 2003 recall but greater than turnout for special elections in 1993 and 1979.
Schwarzenegger’s proposals to curb spending and weaken public employee unions have inflamed passions on both sides, partly because of the election’s roughly €42.3m cost in a state that repeatedly faces budget shortfalls.
Underscoring the stakes, celebrities including actor Warren Beatty and director Rob Reiner provided a Hollywood counterweight to the governor’s Terminator image.
Though some of the measures were complex, Schwarzenegger cast the election in simple terms: Support him and the state moves forward – vote no and protect a broken status quo.
His conflict with the unions made him a target for teachers, nurses and firefighters who hounded his public appearances for months and helped push his popularity ratings to record lows.
Tim Wong, 48, an independent from Belmont, called the election “a waste of the meagre money we have.”
Four other initiatives were on yesterday’s ballot.
The most emotionally charged was Proposition 73, a constitutional amendment that would require doctors to notify parents or guardians when a minor seeks an abortion. It also would redefine abortion as an act that causes the death of an unborn child.
Part of the Republican strategy targeted Christian conservatives, hoping their support for Proposition 73 would trickle down to the governor’s four signatures measures. With 31% of precincts reporting, Proposition 73 was dead even.
Another initiative sought to reregulate part of the state’s energy market - but voters rejected Proposition 80 by a wide margin.
The ballot also included duelling initiatives to lower prescription drug costs. That battle became one of the most expensive initiative campaigns in state history: Pharmaceutical companies pumped in €64.5m to support the industry-sponsored Proposition 78 and oppose Proposition 79, which labour and consumer groups supported.
Proposition 79 was soundly defeated, while Proposition 78 trailed by a substantial margin.
The cascade of campaign spending has been shocking, even in a state known as an ATM for political donations.
Preliminary figures suggest that Republicans, Democrats, unions, big businesses, pharmaceutical companies and others could end up spending a combined €254m – more than President George Bush raised for his 2004 re-election campaign.