Voters Roundly Reject Schwarzenegger Initiatives

California voters rejected four ballot measures for which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had campaigned. Voters also turned down four other initiatives. What do the results mean for the governor and his effectiveness as a leader?

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In California, voters emphatically rejected all eight of the initiatives on yesterday's special election ballot; that included four measures backed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ones he called his `agenda for reform.' The vote was widely interpreted as a referendum on Schwarzenegger's leadership. And as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports, the governor may have drawn upon his acting skills as the final returns were coming in.

INA JAFFE reporting:

When Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed his supporters last night, he barely acknowledged the bad news he surely knew was coming. The governor sounded like he had already moved on.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): In a couple of days the victories or the losses will be behind us. And whether we win, lose or draw, whatever the outcome is, there's one thing we will do. We're going to continue to make California a better place for our citizens here and for our people of this great, great state. We're going to make it (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

JAFFE: Schwarzenegger said he wanted to work in a bipartisan manner, the same pledge he made when he was first elected. Democrat and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said last night that he was ready to do that, too. But speaking to the governor's victorious opponents in Los Angeles, he suggested that the results of this election had changed the balance of power in the state capital.

Mr. FABIAN NUNEZ (Democrat, California; Assembly Speaker): Tonight the voters of this state said no to the politics of division and polarization and yes to us working together. They said no to governing by initiative and yes to accountability to the people.

JAFFE: Schwarzenegger's biggest opponents during the campaign weren't elected officials but organized labor. They felt his initiatives to limit state spending, including on education, to require teachers to work for five years before getting off probation and to force public employee unions to get written permission before using members' dues for politics--all were meant to silence them. Last night the California Nurses Association had their Election Night party in the very same Beverly Hills hotel as Schwarzenegger's. Their protests have hounded the governor around the state and across the country. Roseanne Demoro, the executive director of the union, said their fight against Schwarzenegger will continue.

Ms. ROSEANNE DEMORO (Executive Director, California Nurses Association): Nothing changes. We were here yesterday, we're here today, we're here tomorrow.

JAFFE: As the dust from this election settled today, it was not just Democrats and union members who were critical of Schwarzenegger. Republican strategist Arnold Steinberg feels the governor squandered a golden opportunity.

Mr. ARNOLD STEINBERG (Republican Strategist): When the governor first came into office, he had very high popularity. That was the time he could have enacted these kinds of reforms and these kinds of measures. He let the moment pass, and some serious public policy reforms were needlessly repudiated when they didn't have to be. I think the governor erred in calling a special election.

JAFFE: Steinberg says that after this long, divisive campaign, it's questionable whether voters will again accept Schwarzenegger as the pragmatic centrist he appeared to be when he first ran for office.

Mr. STEINBERG: He has the worst of both worlds. He spent an awful lot of money, he squandered a lot of political capital, he didn't get anywhere, and that's the real tragedy here.

JAFFE: With the special election over, Schwarzenegger moves on to the next campaign. He's seeking a second term next year, but he'll be running less as a superstar and more as a mortal politician. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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