Schwarzenegger Promotes Initiatives Ahead of Vote

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spent the weekend campaigning for initiatives he has proposed that he calls central to reforming California politics. None of the eight initiatives on the ballot in Tuesday's referendum has shown strong support in polling.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Californians go to the polls tomorrow to vote in a special election called by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. On the ballot are eight initiatives, half are backed by Schwarzenegger who calls them essential to reforming the politics of the state. But polls show that none of the initiatives, including the governor's, is all that popular with voters. Joining me now in the studio is NPR's Ina Jaffe. Good morning.

INA JAFFE reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: In the past, Governor Schwarzenegger has managed to get voters to go along with him on ballot measures. And what's different this time?

JAFFE: Well, to put it bluntly, the voters don't seem to like him anymore. His approval ratings are in the high 30s and part of the reason for that is this unprecedented TV and radio campaign run against him by public employee unions. And the faces in these ads are teachers, nurses, cops, firefighters, and these are people that most voters tend to like.

MONTAGNE: And there's other aspects of why he's unpopular, right?

JAFFE: Well, yeah, those are things that he's brought on himself, you might say. He originally ran, remember, as a pragmatic centrist, and now he looks like a pretty conservative guy which doesn't go over big in a blue state like California. First, there was his rousing speech at the Republican National Convention last year, and now his initiatives are all on issues that are associated with conservatives like capping state spending. So that's all the voters ever hear him talking about. And then there's his combative side, and he hasn't called any Democrats `girly men' in a while. But he has still been kind of confrontational, especially with public employee unions who he insists have a stranglehold on state government.

MONTAGNE: And that's why the unions have become his chief antagonists.

JAFFE: Well, they feel that most of the governor's initiatives target them directly. I mean, the most obvious one is the one that would require public employee unions to get annual written permission from their members before they could use their dues for political activities. And the unions are also against the measure to cap state spending because it weakens guaranteed funding for schools and has a potential to harm programs for public safety and for public health. And then there's a measure to make new teachers work for five years before they are off probation, and it's pretty obvious why the California Teachers Association would be against that one.

MONTAGNE: So tell us how the governor has been fighting back.

JAFFE: You know, this is interesting, Renee, because here's this man who's a life performer and he's someone who's good on his feet. But until recently, his major appearances were in the so-called town hall events with only his supporters in the audience by invitation only. And lately, he's done some TV forums where he takes unscripted questions from a studio audience, but he's never appeared face-to-face with any of his opponents. And some analysts from both parties say that's really hurt him. Something also that's not in his control, he's been outspent by the unions.

MONTAGNE: Except Governor Schwarzenegger has a reputation as being a master at raising campaign cash.

JAFFE: He is, but this is something that has strangely added to his image problem. You know, when he ran, he promised he wouldn't take any money from, quote, "special interests," but his biggest contributors are real estate developers, Wal-Mart, pharmaceutical companies, media moguls and so on. And some of them have been giving money in six- and seven-figure chunks and that's fueled these conflict-of-interest charges.

MONTAGNE: And, Ina, beyond that, this special election which many voters just simply aren't interested in, has cost an astonishing amount of money.

JAFFE: Well, if you're talking about campaign contributions, they're estimates of 250 million, 300 million, before it's all over. And I should just mention that some of it has nothing to do with the governor or his measures. There is a measure on the ballot that would start a discount program for prescription drugs and the pharmaceutical companies have spent more than $80 million to defeat it.

MONTAGNE: Ina, thanks very much.

JAFFE: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ina Jaffe here in Los Angeles. At npr.org, political editor Ken Rudin analyzes all of tomorrow's key elections.

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