California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R.) is said to be in trouble, his ambitious reform agenda in ruins and his once invincible poll numbers reduced to those of a regular politician. It all started in January when he called for overdue reforms in his State of the State address. Public-sector employee unions immediately attacked with $2 million per week in ads.
But don’t count Schwarzenegger out. Just like the indestructable Terminator cyborg he played in the movies, the “Governator” will soon rise up again in Sacramento.
In the face of union attacks, Schwarzenegger’s allies have been out collecting signatures to put three of his reform initiatives on the ballot, as well as for a fourth initiative that may spark the largest union response of any in California history. The governor is expected to call for a special election no later than early November that will place all the qualified initiatives before the voters. These propositions will shift the focus back to Schwarzenegger and may give him the momentum he needs to truly reform and resize California government.
The governor’s three key initiatives are: 1) a fair redistricting process that could rework California’s political boundaries as soon as the 2006 election; 2) teacher tenure reform; and 3) responsible budget reform.
The fourth measure, said to already have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, may end up being the most controversial. Called the “Prohibition on Government Employee Payroll Deductions for Political Purposes,” it would codify Beck v. Communication Workers of America for California’s public sector employee unions, allowing unionized government employees to opt out of paying the portion of their dues that goes toward political purposes.
This initiative could change California politics.
Accordingly, the California Teachers Association (CTA), the state’s largest union, is determined to stop it. It recently proposed increasing teachers’ dues by $180 over three years, which would add $54 million to its coffers on top of the $11 million it already has on hand. It is also looking for help from the National Education Association.
The CTA is not the only public-employee union girding for battle. A 10-union bloc called the Alliance for a Better California, which spent about $33.2 million on political action in 2003 and 2004, knows it must defeat Schwarzenegger if the unions are to continue to treat the public treasury as their private purse.
California’s last attempt to enforce Beck, 1998’s Proposition 226, lost by the slender margin of 53% to 47%—in a primary election that featured heavily contested Democratic contests that drove Democrats to the polls. Proposition 226 started with 70% support and withered under a $30-million assault with only $3.5 million spent to defend it.
With polls showing the public supporting teacher-tenure reform by 54% to 39% and redistricting reform by 47% to 42%, the unions may have too much ground to defend to be successful everywhere in the special election.