To complete the orgy of self-promotion in this space: At the Daily Beast, I attempt to explain Schwarzenegger's failure as a campaigner.
Your blogger would have called it for "No" at 8:01 p.m., but he was out reporting. It's a special election wipeout. Propositions 1A through 1E -- backed by Governor Schwarzenegger, Democratic legislative leaders and most of the state's elite -- all lost badly. Only 1B appears to be receiving as much as 40 percent support in early returns. The rest are in the mid to upper 30s. (UPDATE MONDAY MORNING: all 5 measures are now well under 40 percent).
What's next? Chaos. Fighting. And a discussion of how exactly a bankrupt state declares bankruptcy.
Gov. Schwarzenegger said this morning that he's going to release two revised budget proposals on Thursday so that voters understand the consequences of their vote in next Tuesday's special election.
Traditionally, governors release a "May revise" -- a revised version of their January budget -- but Schwarzenegger's announcement, made after a meeting with local officials at a senior center in Culver City, was a bit of a surprise. (Some of his own aides hadn't known this was coming). The governor had previously said he would release a May revise after the election, on May 28. Your blogger was there, along with a surprisingly small number of TV and radio reporters.
Schwarzenegger didn't offer a long explanation, but apparently, he wants to give voters a "Door #1" or "Door #2" approach. One revised proposal would show what Schwarzenegger contends the budget will look like if the special election measures, Props 1A thru 1E, pass next Tuesday. The other would show what he contends the budget will look like if the measures fail. The governor said he wanted to make sure that voters have "a clear understanding" of what their vote will mean.
Wanna know what's driving Republican politics in California? It's not the Republican governor, or the Republican minority in the legislature. It's the Flash Report, the blog and web site run by Jon Fleischman, an Orange County political operative (and friendly acquaintance of your blogger) who is also an official of the California Republican Party. Flash Report posts often drive news coverage and radio talkers around the state.
If you doubt the Flash Report's power, check out the memo -- at the bottom of this item -- that is being distributed by Gov. Schwarzenegger's team and the campaign committee that supports the measures on the May 19 special election ballot. The memo, titled "Flash Report Myth-Fact," offers a direct refutation of multiple Flash Report posts criticizing the most important measure, Prop 1A, which would establish a new state spending limit and beef up the rainy day fund. The memo also provides a useful back-and-forth (sort of centrist vs. conservative back and forth) on the advantages and disadvantages of Prop 1A.
That's how California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today characterized opponents of the six measures that were part of last month's budget deal and go before voters in the May 19 special election.
Schwarzenegger made plain in a speech at the Commonwealth Club that, despite sagging approval ratings, he intends to campaign strongly for the package of six measures.
He also revealed a tough political strategy: go negative against opponents of the package and particularly the spending limit and rainy day fund measure, Prop 1A. In the speech, Schwarzenegger depicted those opponents as out of the mainstream, "the far left" (who want to spend) and "the far right." He was not kind. Consider this excerpt:
In a blast at members of his own party, he said: "Those who say that we could balance the budget through spending cuts alone are guilty of political cynicism at its worst. These are not serious people."
That's right, the governor of California effectively declared that much of the Republican establishment, a majority of GOP legislators and the two of the three GOP candidates for governor in 2010 (Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman) "are not serious people." That's a bit much, but their opposition to taxes in this circumstance is certainly unserious. It appears that the third GOP candidate, former Congressman and Schwarzenegger finance director Tom Campbell, has the governor's endorsement. If he wants it.
He explains why to George Skelton. The governor is interested in looking at changes to the requirement of a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass a budget. But he also wants to transform the executive branch, which wasn't on the agenda of many folks attending this week's summit in Sacramento on the idea. Schwarzenegger wants to get rid of the independently elected constitutional officers -- the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the controller, the treasurer -- who sometimes make it hard for him to administer the government.
As a policy matter, Schwarzenegger has a point. There'd be more accountability if the governor could appoint the people in those roles. As a political matter, Schwarzenegger may have hurt the convention effort by saying that. Opponents of the idea will deride the convention as a power grab by a governor whose approval rating is at 33 percent in a new poll.
That's not a record. The number topped $300 million during 2005, the year of Gov. Schwarzenegger's ill-fated special election, and in the 2006 cycle. But it's not chump change--more than the payroll of the New York Yankees, and a little less than the budget at smaller University of California campuses.
Gov. Schwarzenegger largely punted in describing the state of the state. So others have picked up the slack. The Sacramento Bee's Dan Weintraub explains how we're doing. There's a little good news, and some bad.
Even more interesting is this extraordinary piece by New America's Micah Weinberg. He puts Schwarzenegger's speech in context, comparing it to the rhetoric of other governors. This is part of an extensively analysis Weinberg did of the words governors across the country use. The results are startling: it's what you say, not what you do.
I conducted an analysis of the rhetoric of 97 governors that compared the language in their speeches to that of national party platforms. It showed that approval ratings were higher, chances of re-election greater and margins of victory larger if governors used partisan language that appealed to the political majority in their states. On the other hand, the actual fiscal policy changes they presided over had no discernable effect on their political fortunes.
So if you're a governor in a Republican state, it is not necessary to actually cut taxes in order to be successful, but you'd better talk about cutting taxes as frequently as you can. And in a Democratic state, you need not succeed in expanding state programs, but you had better say that you're planning on doing so.
In California's blockbuster democracy, it's now commonplace for politicians to establish their own political committee to raise money for and spend money on ballot measures (as opposed to the committees they use for their own election campaigns). This tactic, most aggressively advanced by Gov. Schwarzenegger, makes sense in an era when most issues of significance end up on the ballot.
But some believe that ballot measure committees, which may accept a contribution of any limit, are a way around the legal limits on how much one can give a politician. And several politicians have used the ballot measure funds for political spending that had nothing to do with an initiative or referendum.
On Thursday, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission made a stab at limiting the power of ballot measure committees that are controlled by politicians. Such committees will no have to show that they are devoted to a particular ballot measure. What does this mean? Even more such committees, as politicians open multiple accounts to comply with the regulation. So who's the winner in this scenario? Election lawyers.
It has become obvious that Gov. Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders of both parties simply won't be able to reach a compromise that comes anywhere close to closing California's rapidly growing budget deficit, now estimated at some $40 billion over two years. The state government is running low on cash. Within weeks, it may have to start paying people in IOUs.
Democrats simply won't agree to enough cuts. Republicans won't agree to tax increases, and they can block that because of the state's requirement for a two-thirds vote. The Democrats' convoluted (if politically smart) attempt to do an end run around two thirds and raise taxes by majority vote isn't going anywhere; even if it's revived and signed into law, it's all but certain to get struck down in the courts or overturned by referendum. The governor you ask? Schwarzenegger has little credibility with lawmakers of either party. When it comes to big deals, he simply can't close.