Arnold’s back, and just like the cyborg in The Terminator, he’s likely to upset some people before he leaves the scene. In several long and drawn out battles with the California legislature over various aspects of his agenda, he and his opposition fought to a draw, setting up what will probably be the most consequential election in America this November. Just as in his first year in office when the legislature refused to pass his plan to restructure the state’s debt, he’s taken his case to the people.
After being elected in a popular revolt against an incumbent governor, Schwarzenegger has worn the mantle of the populist outsider with the positive reformist agenda, and it has driven the Democrat controlled legislature nuts. The most recent battle began when the legislature failed to pass several major pieces of his agenda this year. Arnold then threatened to again take his case to the voters via referendum and, after the legislature refused to budge, he made good on his threat.
At first glance you would think these guys would have learned by now that they’re not dealing with an ordinary politician. They’re up against a man who replaced the ordinary politician, and has the ability to rally citizens with a populist “outsider” message. He has an reservoir of good will among the people that he’s able to call upon when he let’s them know that the politicians in Sacramento are holding up the works. As a result, he can virtually guarantee that he can circumvent the legislature and get any issue he wants on the ballot and let the voters decide.
In the end, the Democrats couldn’t or wouldn’t compromise, as the issues at stake go to the heart of their very existence. The various measures would 1) cap state spending – hardly a favorite of Democrats; 2) strip the legislature of its ability to redraw political boundaries – which would currently take that power from majority Democrats; 3) increase the time required for teacher eligibility for tenure – teachers’ unions being a core Democrat constituency and 4) require public employee unions to get members’ permission before dues can be used for political purposes – a major source of financing for Democrats.
The repercussions of what happens in this election, should Arnold be victorious, will be huge – bigger than any other races on the ballot this fall, (including the New York Mayor’s race and the Virginia and New Jersey governorships). Politicians come and go, but a positive outcome on these ballot measures has the possibility of creating a national movement to advance one or several of these issues. Such a result could be politically transformative.
Redistricting reform and reducing the number of congressional districts drawn exclusively along partisan lines would have national implications. If done in California alone it could make that state more politically competitive and, as a result, give Republicans increased hope of carrying the Golden State in a presidential election.
A cap on state spending would help staunch the flow of government funds available for political purposes, (i.e., “buying off” constituencies). While both parties are guilty of such spending, the Democrats are by far the worse offenders and have far more to lose if forced to cut back.
The tenure reform proposal would be a major achievement in the battle to reform public education by making educators more accountable and having them prove themselves before being granted tenure.
Lastly, requiring members’ permission in order to use union dues for political purposes, also known as a “check-off”, would dramatically handi-cap the Democrats ability to rely on union funds to fight their battles and get out the vote, as a sizeable percentage of members would likely oppose having their dues used for such purposes.
As an added bonus, there is a measure on the ballot that would require abortion practitioners to notify a parent or guardian at least forty-eight hours prior to performing an abortion on a minor – an issue which will surely draw out and activate more grassroots conservatives for the turnout effort. Some polls have shown this issue passing by as much as a twenty point margin.
If either of these issues passes and gain national momentum, they spell long term trouble for Democrats and they know it. Now is the time to own a television station in California. The public employee unions are spending an estimated one-hundred million dollars. The Democrat Party and various associated committees have raised millions to oppose the measures as well. One donor alone has contributed four million dollars to stop the change in re-districting. For his party Schwarzenegger’s committee has raised twenty-eight million dollars.
While the opponents have been using their money to beat him down via television ads since the spring, driving his polling numbers to all time lows, Arnold has waited until the final six weeks of the campaign to blow his dough and it appears to have paid off. Just this week two different polls have pegged support for all four measures at between fifty-five and sixty percent – a dramatic turnaround from just several weeks ago.
Schwarzenegger has personalized the campaign further by announcing his intention to run for re-election a year from now, clearly aimed at framing the debate as him versus the establishment. It appears to be working. When the cyborg in The Terminator came back, after promising that he would, he destroyed everything in sight. If Arnold pulls this off, the results to the political establishment could be about the same.