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News about the issues facing California

April 9, 2005

“Leno has been working with grassroots organizers who have been gathering signatures online [www.ContestTheVote.org] and in person for petitions urging the governor to drop plans for a special election. As of Friday afternoon, the groups have collected nearly 17,000 signatures.”.

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Governor defends about-face
Foes gleeful that he dropped measure on public pensions

San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, April 9, 2005
Lynda Gledhill, John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writers

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger struggled to limit the damage to his oft- touted political reform packages Friday by appearing at radio stations across California to explain why he dumped his controversial plan to trim pensions for public employees.

But Schwarzenegger's opponents are gloating over the crack in the governor's aura of political invincibility and predicted trouble for the other initiatives Schwarzenegger is trying to qualify for a possible special election in November.

Even if the governor moves forward with his plans for a special election on other items, such as teacher tenure and redistricting, Democrats now see the public as an ally in their fight against these measures.

"I think what you see happening is an actual people's revolt against the direction the governor has taken since the beginning of the year," said Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

Leno has been working with grassroots organizers who have been gathering signatures online [www.ContestTheVote.org] and in person for petitions urging the governor to drop plans for a special election. As of Friday afternoon, the groups have collected nearly 17,000 signatures.

"He can continue down the same path, but he's still going to have angry Californians," Leno said.

Not all those angry voters will be Democrats. Some Republicans and conservative independents are dismayed by the governor's decision to drop the pension proposal after a serious of raucous protests by thousands of teachers, nurses, public safety officials and union members.

"I'm a little troubled by the fact that you've pulled back on this," Bill Handel, a conservative talk show host in Los Angeles, told the governor Friday. "You're not willing to go to war full blast with the unions ... is that correct?"

In 11 radio interviews, many of them with the same conservative opinion leaders who spearheaded Schwarzenegger's effort to oust Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in the 2003 recall election, the governor tried to explain that nothing had really changed.

Even though he didn't agree with concerns that the proposed initiative might eliminate death and disability benefits for police officers and firefighters, Schwarzenegger decided it was important to rewrite the measure.

"We pulled back the initiative temporarily," Schwarzenegger said in a Sacramento radio interview. "We're going to rewrite the language, resubmit it again and put it on the next June (2006) ballot, and that is only a six-month delay."

But that there's a delay at all shows the pressure the governor was under to revise his pension plan; some law enforcement officials were questioning whether the governor should attend the annual Peace Officers' Memorial Ceremony in Sacramento next month because of concerns over the pension plan. It also suggests Schwarzenegger and his advisers weren't anxious to face months of TV ads featuring widows and orphans talking about a hard-hearted governor.

"The governor has been outflanked by labor groups," said Alan Hoffenblum, a former GOP consultant who now edits the California Target Book, a political journal. "While the governor has been in a planning and fund-raising mode, the unions are in a full campaign drive, actively and publicly opposing what he wants to do."

The governor denied the pension dustup would have any effect on the rest of the proposed initiatives. He said hundreds of thousands of signatures have been collected for the measures, which would put them well on the way to qualifying for the ballot.

The only people calling this a political defeat are those "who never wanted to have the reform -- the pension reform or the budget reform or education reform -- in the first place," Schwarzenegger said in an interview with a Los Angeles news station.

But the governor's opponents believe they have shown that police officers, nurses, teachers and other union members have been able to get their message to the public just as effectively as the governor, which could make a difference in a November election.

The pension reversal is just another sign of the disarray that has surrounded the governor's hasty effort to bypass the Democrat-controlled Legislature with the initiative drive. Disputes among Republicans over Schwarzenegger's plan for a state spending cap meant the governor's backers couldn't begin collecting signatures for the initiative until April 1, less than a month before the deadline for a November election.

"There are a lot of Schwarzenegger supporters who want to rally around the flag, but they can't find the flagpole," Hoffenblum said.

Schwarzenegger Hotline to report Anti Initiative Activists

Marc Keenberg
April 7, 2005

I heard this on the radio this morning Blast it out to everyone This is a Hotline Phone number set up by (the so-called) Citizens to Save California to report Anti-Arnie Activists who are " interfering" with the Special Election Signature Gatherers. The phone number is:


I guess Arnold's handlers have a severe problem with the First Admendment!

Schwarzenegger backs off plan to change public pensions

Thursday, April 7, 2005 (AP)
Associated Press Writer

In a dramatic policy reversal Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed off his plan to reshape California's public employee pension system for now, saying "misconceptions" by firefighters and police officers that it would strip them of death and disability benefits had overwhelmed the issue.

Schwarzenegger, who launched his plan to change the pension system in January, said he would wait until the June 2006 primary election to put his proposal on the ballot if lawmakers didn't reach a compromise in coming months. But even as he announced the delay, he said his petition campaign had already gathered 400,000 of the necessary 600,000 signatures to put his plan on the ballot.

"Let's pull it back and do it better," said Schwarzenegger who was flanked by more than a dozen police, fire and local government leaders. "That's what this is about. We're saying, 'Let's do it better.'"

Schwarzenegger's retreat, temporary or not, comes as successive polls show his public support dropping and as organized labor, particularly police and firefighter's unions, is fighting his pension plan. For labor groups the plan had potentially devastating repercussions, as they feared a new system of forced individual investment accounts might gain momentum in other states and eventually dilute the power of $2 trillion in pension fund assets nationwide that have become major forces on Wall Street.

The $182.9 billion California Public Employees Retirement Fund, with 1.4 million members, is the nation's largest fund and a leader in pressing for changes in how executives are paid and companies are run. The $125 billion California State Teachers Retirement System, with 750,000 members, is also in the top three nationally.

Schwarzenegger had called pension costs "another government program out of control" and wanted to curb escalating state payments to public employee retirement funds by requiring new employees hired after 2007 to join private, 401(k)-style individual investment accounts. Instead of receiving a guaranteed "defined benefit," pensioners' payments would depend on the success of their private investments.

Amid continuing budget deficits, this year's state contribution to public employee retirements jumped to $2.6 billion from $160 million in 2000. Those higher payments were caused stock market losses in 2001 and 2002 and more generous pension benefits granted when the stock market was booming in the late 1990s.

But the unions, both in California and nationally, fought back. They seized on the death and disability benefits as a key issue and featured the widows and children of dead police and firefighters to highlight their case. Their Democratic allies who dominate the Legislature didn't negotiate with Schwarzenegger, even as he threatened to go directly to voters in a special election later this year.

Recent polls, including one released Thursday by San Jose State University, showed the potency of Schwarzenegger's threat of direct democracy has waned. Schwarzenegger's job approval rating, the poll showed, dipped below 50 percent for the first time since he took office.

Poll director Phil Trounstine called Schwarzenegger's retreat an attempt "to get the hornets back in the nest, since the pension reform part of his proposals was probably what most stirred up the nurses, teachers, and cops. By dropping that, it's an admission that those forces he'd labeled as special interests might be more special than he thought."

Only Nebraska, West Virginia and Michigan have made such individual accounts mandatory for many of their new hires. But Nebraska abandoned its private system in 2003 after studies showed the private accounts were less successful than those run by the state's professional investment advisers.

One possible compromise is an Oregon-style system that funnels the state's contributions into a traditional pension fund and steers employee contributions to an individual investment account.

Before he pulled back his plan, Schwarzenegger met with police and fire chiefs and survivors of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty. All said the ballot language opened possibilities of employees losing death and disability payments.

Schwarzenegger said that wasn't his plan but that most public safety officials said it could happen anyway. An analysis of the proposed ballot language by the attorney general's office reached the same conclusion.

Public employee unions celebrated the latest development and said they remained vigilant against future attempts to change the system, which they lumped with President Bush's attempt to create private accounts in Social Security. They accused Schwarzenegger of gambling with retirees' savings and trying to help Wall Street investment firms that have donated money to his campaigns.

The pension plan is now in its "proper place, the rejection pile of bad ideas," said Democratic Treasurer Phil Angelides, an early critic of the Schwarzenegger proposal and an announced candidate for governor in 2006. The retreat, he said, was a "clear defeat" for the governor.

Schwarzenegger's retreat came a day after the Senate ousted his one nominee to the CalSTRS board who supported the pension plan. The move came in retaliation for the governor's Feb. 11 firing of four nominees who opposed his plan. The CalPERS board also voted 9-3 on Feb. 16 to oppose the plan, with CalPERS President Rob Feckner saying it "relates to the very survival of CalPERS."

Self-Proclaimed Governor of the People Is Fading as Lord of the Polls

George Skelton
Capitol Journal
Los Angeles Times
April 7, 2005

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's style may be getting stale.

He's too interested in PR gimmicks, many voters think, and should be putting more effort into dealing with legislators.

Fewer than half of Californians now approve of the way the governor is handling his job, a sharp decline since January.

Moreover, people think California has gotten off on the wrong track.

These are the findings of a statewide poll to be released today by the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State. It indicates that the Schwarzenegger luster is fading, especially among Democrats.

Other polls have found the governor to be slipping in popularity and the electorate becoming polarized as he acts more partisan and combative.

But this is the first recent survey to ask Californians how they feel about Schwarzenegger's governing style of going around the Legislature directly to the people, often at elaborately staged, gimmicky events. His goals are to generate public pressure on lawmakers to accept his "reform" ideas, to promote his own ballot initiatives if the Legislature refuses to deal and to maintain his image as a political outsider.

"If he's here [at the Capitol] too much, that's not good," says Rob Stutzman, the governor's communications director. "You get co-opted by the system. His strength comes from being out there with the people."

But the responses to this survey should sound an alarm for the governor, who intends to call a high-stakes special election in November for his reforms and is widely expected to run for a second term next year.

The nonpartisan poll was directed by Phil Trounstine, a former communications director for Gov. Gray Davis and longtime political writer for the San Jose Mercury News. In all, 1,030 adults were interviewed, including 736 registered voters. There's an error margin of roughly 3% for all those surveyed, about 4% for voters. Interviews were conducted March 28-April 1.

Voters were read these statements, with the order rotated from call to call, and asked to agree or disagree:

  • "He's doing a good job of working with legislators and getting things done." Agree 43%, disagree 43%.
  • "He's right to bypass lawmakers and focus on his ballot initiatives." Agree 38%, disagree 47%.
  • "He's too interested in gimmicks, public relations and image." Agree 49%, disagree 41%.
  • "He should be putting more effort into working with legislators so he'd get more done." Agree 62%, disagree 25%. Even Republicans agree, 49% to 34%.
Stutzman says, "He gave them proposals and the legislators still haven't responded."

The voter groups most sour on Schwarzenegger are Democrats and women, L.A. and Bay Area residents, blacks, Latinos and Asians. No surprises there. But it's significant that independents tilt slightly against him. Republicans remain his biggest boosters.

The governor's job performance is approved by 49% of voters, disapproved by 38%. His rating is worse among all adults: 43% approval, 43% disapproval — a steep slide since it was 59%-26% in January. Polls last year had shown Schwarzenegger with stratospheric job ratings in the high 60s.

People also were asked a standard question about whether they think "things in California are going in the right direction or are they seriously off on the wrong track." Only 39% answered right direction; 49% said wrong track. In January, it was almost reversed: 52% right track, 35% wrong direction.

"There's this problem the governor has," Trounstine says. "He's mediagenic. He's a very effective spokesperson. The more he argues that California has these terrible problems that have to be fixed, the more he convinces people the state is going in the wrong direction. It's a double-edged sword."

Terry Christensen, a San Jose State political science professor, is one of many who contends that Schwarzenegger made "a tactical error" by attacking popular nurses, teachers, firefighters and cops. The governor insists he's only assailing their "special interest" unions. But that's a hard-to-grasp, tricky nuance.

The unions have countered with anti-Schwarzenegger TV ads and protest demonstrations that are bound to affect polls.

Ken Khachigian, a longtime GOP strategist and speechwriter for two presidents, says Schwarzenegger "could use some fresh rhetoric. His language is getting a little overused. It was working a year ago, but this mantra about 'special interests' isn't working now….

"It's time for him to give a real thoughtful, contemplative speech about where we are in California and the obligation we have to get us back on the right track…. He can go after the Legislature, but it should be in a more high-minded, contemplative way."

Or, as former GOP consultant Allan Hoffenblum says, "We're looking for a governor, not a Terminator."

Asserts Claremont McKenna political scientist Jack Pitney, a former staffer for the Republican National Committee: "It was normal that the excitement of the early days wasn't going to last. People even get used to a Schwarzenegger administration.

"He's going to have to adapt. He may have to moderate his style. Use fewer [stage] gimmicks. But he's capable. That's the story of his whole career."

A little script freshening would help. Voters like to be talked to seriously, not down to. There should be more scenes in the Capitol. Even if the Legislature isn't a costar, it's a coequal branch. Americans instinctively understand that.

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Voter Fraud / Suppression / Irregularities