Schwarzenegger Fights for November Special Election

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for a special election this November. He is asking voters to consider a package of ballot proposals to relieve some of California's nagging problems. John Myers of member station KQED reports on what's expected to be a very contentious and expensive campaign.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The man who calls himself the people's governor has decided to go back to the people once again. Yesterday, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special election for this November. Voters here in California will be asked to consider a package of ballot measures that he says would help solve some of the state's perennial problems. From member station KQED, John Myers reports that the special election could be a decisive chapter in the Governator's political life.

JOHN MYERS reporting:

Since he began his political career almost two years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger has seemed to relish any fight where the odds are against him. On Monday evening, speaking from his office at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger ventured into what might be his biggest battle yet, a special election this fall for voters to consider his package of three government reforms. One would change the way political districts are drawn. A second would make it harder for teachers to get tenure. And a third is one Schwarzenegger calls the most important, to impose a new spending cap on the state's budget.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): We cannot continue a budget system that automatically spends $1.10 for every dollar we take in. Without reforms, we are destined to relive the past all over again: $22 billion in deficit, higher car taxes and the threat of bankruptcy.

MYERS: The decision to call a special election, which will be held on November 8th, is a sign that a political storm is brewing. Gone are the days where Democrats and Republicans talked about working together.

Mr. FABIAN NUNEZ (Assembly Speaker): I think the governor has set the course to put this state on a path which is gonna lead to nothing good.

MYERS: Democrat Fabian Nunez is the speaker of the California Assembly and says the governor should have sat down and negotiated with lawmakers. Gone, too, are Schwarzenegger's one-time sky-high approval ratings, a fact reinforced by the large crowd of protesters who marched outside the state Capitol Monday.

Group of Protesters: (In unison) Hey hey, ho ho, Schwarzenegger has got to go! Hey hey, ho ho...

MYERS: Critics point out in particular the projected cost of the special election, an unbudgeted expense to local and state governments of at least $45 million. But even more money will be spent on the political campaigns themselves. In addition to the Schwarzenegger agenda, five other initiatives are also expected to be on the ballot, including proposals to lower the cost of prescription drugs and to re-regulate California's energy market. Those initiatives, plus one designed to make it harder for public employee unions to raise political cash in the future, are expected to make this November's election one of the state's most expensive. One of the governor's loudest critics, the powerful California Teachers Association, is assessing its members a surcharge to help pay for the campaign. Barbara Kerr is president of the CTA.

Ms. BARBARA KERR (California Teachers Association): The governor's initiatives will hurt public education and hurt students, and so our members said, `Yes, we need to contribute more money because we need to be there to make sure our voices are heard.'

MYERS: But in his special election announcement, Schwarzenegger seemed confident that his critics don't really represent the state's voters.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: One way or another, with the people's help, there will be action this year. With the people's help, there will be reform. Our broken state government will be modernized and revitalized, and you, the people, will be heard.

MYERS: Governor Schwarzenegger begins his campaign for those reform measures later today in Southern California with his work cut out for him. A recent poll found most of the proposals with less than 50 percent support, and with almost two-thirds of those surveyed saying a special election this fall is a mistake. For NPR News, I'm John Myers in Sacramento.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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