California Voters Reject Schwarzenegger Initiatives

California voters have rejected all of the four ballot measures backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in Tuesday's special election. Those measures included caps on state spending and restrictions on the use of union dues for political expenditures.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Voters did more than elect mayors and governors yesterday. They also added to the conversation over the nation's political future.

INSKEEP: Whoever wins the elections in odd-numbered years will usually say it is a sign of future national victories. So this year it is the Democratic Party's turn to see national implications while Republicans downplay the results.

MONTAGNE: In two governors' races, Democrats won last night. Jon Corzine will be the next governor of New Jersey. In Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine will become governor even though President Bush campaigned for his opponent.

INSKEEP: Republicans did achieve one high-profile success. Mayor Michael Bloomberg kept his job in New York City and we'll have more on that in a moment.

MONTAGNE: First we'll report on the voting here in California, where voters just said no. All eight propositions on the special election ballot lost. That includes four measures that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said were essential to reforming state politics. NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE reporting:

After decades of success in body-building, movies, business and politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't have a lot of experience admitting defeat, so last night he didn't. Instead, he offered an olive branch, several of them actually. There was one for the voters.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (California): ...those who voted for our propositions and I also want to thank those who did not vote for our propositions.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: I want to thank them for being part of the process. Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of applause)

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

JAFFE: He then extended his hand to nurses, teachers, firefighters and other unionized public employees who spent $100 million or more hounding him everywhere he went and running nonstop attack ads on radio and TV.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: Believe it or not, I even want to thank the people who were so passionately vocal against us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: I guess I didn't do a good enough job to convince them otherwise.

JAFFE: The measures Schwarzenegger campaigned for would have lengthened the time public school teachers were on probation, limited state spending while giving him more power to make budget cuts, and change the way legislative districts are drawn. But the initiative that most threatened and enraged organized labor was the one that would have made unions get annual written permission from their members before using their dues for political purposes. It enraged Democrats, too, in part because that union money usually goes to them. Last night, Schwarzenegger vowed to work in a more bipartisan manner, the same vow he made the night he was first elected.

Gov. SCHWARZENEGGER: We're going to go and find common ground. We're going to talk about reforms of how to move our state forward. We're going to bring new ideas to the table; big ideas, radical ideas. Like I always said, the bigger the better.

JAFFE: At a gathering of Democrats and union activists in downtown Los Angeles, State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez seemed ready to get back to work and said it was important not to be a, quote, "sore winner."

Mr. FABIAN NUNEZ (Assembly Speaker, California): We are ready to engage and to work with the governor as we have been all along. But the people of this state are not just interested in "Kum Ba Ya" and cameras.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NUNEZ: We want a true partnership that gets things done and leaves no California behind.

(Soundbite of cheers)

JAFFE: Union leaders, however, could not contain their jubilation. Martin Ludlow, the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, seemed delirious with victory.

Mr. MARTIN LUDLOW (Head, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor): Governor Schwarzenegger, I hope you look at the returns, I hope you look at the polls, I hope you look at the voters, because California voters said, `You were wrong, we were right. You were wrong, we were right!'

JAFFE: That range of attitudes among Democrats and their labor allies make the rest of Schwarzenegger's governorship a big question mark says political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, especially since the governor now reaching out to them will be running for re-election.

Ms. SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE (Political Analyst): The Democrats have to decide if they will reach back and be perceived as cooperating for the good of California or whether they will decide, `Hm, if we really prevent you from doing anything, we might have a better opportunity to take back the governorship.'

JAFFE: With the primary election coming up in June, Schwarzenegger's bid for another term begins now. He has always presented himself as, quote, "the people's governor." That may be harder in his upcoming campaign now that the people have emphatically rejected his agenda. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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