Governor’s muscle fails to pass major initiatives

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California voters rejected all eight propositions on Tuesday’s special election ballot, including four supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that would have affected public employees unions, state spending caps, public teachers and legislative redistricting.

An initiative that would cap state spending and allow for midyear cuts was soundly rejected and called by late Tuesday night, with 62.1 percent no votes. An initiative that would have lengthened the amount of time it takes for a public school teacher to attain tenure status also lost, with 44.9 percent of voters voting yes.

Proposition 77, which would call for new legislative redistricting measures, lost by 19.5 percent with 100 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning.

Proposition 75, which would require public employee unions to get written authorization from members before using dues on political causes, was also voted down by voters, with 53.5 percent voting against it. Early in the evening, the initiative was inching ahead as early results came in, but as more Los Angeles and other counties’ precincts began to report their tallies, the no votes stacked up.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. across California, with Los Angeles precincts reporting latest.

The election, called by the governor earlier this year, is seen by many as a gauge for the success or failure of his term, and as a harbinger of his political future. Some have said that if the governor’s measures fail, his political career could be in jeopardy.

If the initiatives do not pass, it could spell a radical shift in the manner in which Schwarzenegger carries out final two years of his term as governor, according to Martin Saiz, professor of political science at CSUN.

“It’s going to make Schwarzenegger pretty vulnerable,” Saiz said. “He’s popularity rating is about where (former governor) Gray Davis’ was when he was recalled. He’s going to look weak, and he appears weak. The opposition will just ignore him. His party’s already a minority in the Legislature, so he’s going to come out pretty weak.”

Voter turn out was expected to be about 42 percent statewide.

“If (Schwarzenegger’s) four main propositions are defeated, it spells the end of his political career – period,” said Nicolas Dungey, political science professor at CSUN, on Tuesday night. “Even if he gets two out of four, it’s very likely that he’ll be beaten by a Democratic challenger (in 2006). It would mean he is no longer viable, politically.”

Tom Hogen-Esch, professor of political science at CSUN, said the initiative process is under contention, and he questions the governor’s political tactics.

“A lot of people can legitimately question the entire process, the notion of governing by initiative,” he said. “This is what governor has staked his political career on, circumventing the legislative process, and it appears to have gotten him in a lot of trouble. He never really reached out to the Legislature. He considered the Legislature irrelevant from day one, and he’s burned a lot of bridges.”

Dungey shared a similar sentiment. He said he sees the special voter referendums as an attempt at a “power grab” by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

“He has forced four very controversial propositions onto the ballot,” which if passed would allow him to “do whatever he wants,” Dungey said. “This campaign is about his ability to circumvent the traditional processes and institutions, and any time someone does that, they’ve revealed their weakness.”

“He’s got to create propositions that he thinks he needs to carry out his agenda,” he said. “If he could have found a more politically savvy way to work with the Legislature, he could have pursued his ideas through the traditional institutions.”

Voters also rejected a so-called abortion parental notification proposition, but by 5.2 percent, making it the closest of all eight propositions to passage.

Proposition 73 would stipulate that a minor could not get an abortion until 48 hours after her parents or legal guardian have been notified by a physician, unless there is a medical emergency or pre-existing parental waiver.

Professor Diane Bartlow of the Women’s Studies Department said she takes serious issue with this initiative. Supporters have said that parents should be a part of and have a say in the process of abortion in the case of minors.

“It would be super if young girls felt comfortable enough to go to their parent or legal guardian in this kind of situation, but this is a proposition that presumes that it’s going to be a one size fits all circumstance for all girls,” she said. “Exercising one’s choice is an extremely complex matter, and even more so for young girls.”

Proposition 74 would extend the probationary period for public school teachers from two years to five years and modify the process by which school boards can dismiss a permanent teaching employee who receives two consecutive unsatisfactory evaluations. The initiative was failing by as much as 10.2 percent.

“On top of cost of housing, brutally long work hours, difficult conditions, low pay, you add yet another barrier, which is less job security, so it’s just going to be one more thing that makes K-12 teaching less and less attractive,” Hogen-Esch said. “Fortunately it doesn’t affect higher education, but if this thing passes, we’re probably next.”

Five other propositions were also short of passage as of press time Tuesday night, with voters soundly rejecting both prescription drug measures and the governor’s state spending cap initiative, Proposition 76.

The initiative would have changed the minimum funding requirement for public schools and limits state spending to the previous year, plus total revenue growth. It would also give a governor more power to make midyear budget cuts in the midst of fiscal crises.

Proposition 77 would require a panel of three retired judges, selected by legislative leaders, to adopt a new redistricting plan and after each national census.

Proposition 79 would allow discounts on prescription drugs for eligible Californians to be funded by rebates from drug manufacturers who choose to participate. Proposition 80 would regulate electric service providers by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Bethania Palma can be reached at bethania.palma.45@csun.edu.