Californians will vote November 8 on a string of right-wing referendums put on the ballot with the support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger came up with the special election idea soon after defeating Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in the November 2003 recall election. Although Democratic Party lawmakers, who hold the majority in the state legislature, went along with Schwarzenegger’s demands to rescind driver’s licenses for undocumented workers and slash the public education budget–measures that would affect mainly the powerless–they balked at proposals that would endanger their own incumbent power.
Bolstered by high approval ratings during his first year in office, Arnold decided to “go to the people” to override the legislative opposition.
Back in February, the Field Poll reported that 56 percent of California’s supported the governor. By September, that number had sunk to 36 percent. Instead of Schwarzenegger overriding the legislature, it looks like the voters are about to override the Governator’s administration by rejecting his referendums and turning him into a weak, lame duck governor.
What happened? The backlash started a year ago when members of the California Nurses Association (CNA) protested Schwarzenegger at a speech he was giving supposedly to honor women’s rights. The nurses were angry that he had just signed an executive order overturning a new state law designed to reduce nurse-to-patient ratios and raise the standard of patient care.
Faced with the CNA challenge, Arnold yelled out that the nurses were “a special interest who don’t like me because I am always kicking their butt.” This was too much for most Californians, especially considering the number of women who came forward during the recall election to say they had been victims of Schwarzenegger’s groping.
Setting an unusually aggressive tone for labor leaders, CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro organized nurses to protest Schwarzenegger everywhere he went. The nurses also spent millions on advertising and won a major victory when a judge reinstated the reduction in hospital staffing ratios.
Soon, teachers, firefighters and other public employees were joining in. The high water mark was a protest of over 30,000 union workers and students in Sacramento last spring. Since then, everywhere Schwarzenegger goes, dozens or hundreds or even thousands of protesters dog him.
As his poll numbers slipped through the spring, Arnold upped the ante, adopting an even more confrontational style and moving to the right. He calculated that by appearing “strong,” he could stoke his Terminator movie popularity and go back on the offensive.
Faced with a continuing budget deficit, Arnold demanded even more cuts than the Democratic majority in the legislature was prepared to give, although they gave him plenty. During the budget fight, Arnold engineered a campaign to put four ballot measures up for a vote in a November 2005 special election. All are designed to weaken the institutional power of the legislature’s long-term Democratic majority.
— Proposition 74 would increase from 2 to 5 years the time it takes for public school teachers to get tenure and job security. This measure would devastate public schools by dramatically increasing teacher turnover and severely weakening the power of the teachers’ union to protect its members. As a major attack on a union whose leadership showers Democratic legislators with contributions (for very little in return), Schwarzenegger calculated that he could intimidate other unions to boot.
— Proposition 75 targets all public-sector unions, requiring them to get written approval from each member to use dues money for political purposes. Like the attack on teachers, this measure aims to cripple the union movement’s capacity for political campaigning. No similar restriction would be imposed on corporate donors.
— Proposition 76 would simultaneously grant the governor executive powers to cut the budget by declaring a “fiscal emergency” and reduce the constitutionally guaranteed percentage of the state budget dedicated to public education.
— Proposition 77 would give three retired judges the power to redraw legislative districts in California. Arnold wants to follow the Texas example and eliminate as many safe Democratic Party seats as possible, tipping state government in favor of suburban Republican voters.
Despite the fact that polls showed little enthusiasm for the special election, Schwarzenegger plowed ahead.
As his popularity faded, he tried to save himself by playing the anti-immigrant card. When the vigilante Minutemen Project organized armed racists to “patrol” the border in Arizona and harass and threaten undocumented workers, Arnold praised them and said he would “welcome” them to California.
Fortunately, pro-immigrant rights organizers took a page out of the nurses’ playbook–and confronted the vigilantes everywhere they went, disrupting their plans to grow into a large organized force. However, the danger persists. The Minutemen held a rally in Sacramento at the end of October attended by 300 bigots, where they announced plans to put a “defend our border” proposition on the ballot next year.
Just as the anti-immigrant right gained momentum from Schwarzenegger’s endorsement, the anti-abortion fanatics sensed their chance. Although Arnold is pro-choice, he announced that he would support Proposition 73, which requires doctors to notify the parents of teens who plan to have an abortion.
To underline his enthusiasm for the measure, he announced that he would “kill” anyone who assisted one of his daughters if she wanted to get an abortion without his knowledge. Just like his outburst about kicking nurses’ butts, Arnold went too far with this one–and was forced to “clarify” his remark.
If the polls are correct, then Arnold is set to get his own butt kicked November 8.
It’s tempting to chalk up the evaporation of his seemingly solid support to his own buffoonery. Schwarzenegger’s habit of quoting his own action movies as public policy certainly has worn thin. You can only listen to “I’ll be baaaack” so many times.
But something deeper is at play. In the fall of 2003, voters recalled a Democrat, Gray Davis, for the same reasons that Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has dropped out of sight in the polls.
At bottom, class anger is making California a dangerous place for any incumbent governor. Impossible housing prices, a crumbling public education system, climbing health care costs, lack of good jobs and a collapsing infrastructure are driving working-class discontent.
In political terms, the fight has been centered on the question of the California “budget deficit,” which politicians of both parties use an excuse to slash public spending. The reality is that the “deficit” is a bipartisan creation, resulting from the fact that corporations and the richest 5 percent of Californians don’t pay their fare share of taxes. As Green Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo points out, the richest 5 percent of Californians pay dramatically less in taxes compared to their income than the poorest 20 percent.
The only way to solve the “crisis” is to raise taxes on the wealthy, but neither party has the stomach to challenge their corporate backers.
The specific instances are different: Gray Davis gave $30 billion to his friends in the electricity business during the blackouts, while Arnold handed his rich pals $2 billion right out of the public school budgets last year. But so long as no party is willing to collect taxes from the wealthy, the crisis in our schools, our hospitals and our neighborhoods will go on–and it’s likely that a revolving door will have to be installed on the governor’s office.
Worse, if no political force provides a progressive solution to California’s problems, then the only answers available for angry people will be prison-building, immigrant-bashing, school privatization and bigotry against women and gays and lesbians.
Voting NO on all of Arnold’s propositions is a good start. But real change in Sacramento will come from two sources. First, we have to follow the activist example set by the nurses and apply it to all the politicians. And second, we can’t continue to vote for the politicians and political parties that we protest.
College Not Combat!
ON NOVEMBER 8, San Francisco voters will vote on Proposition I, which would put the city on record as opposed to U.S. military recruiters using public school, college and university facilities to recruit young people into the armed forces.
Placed on the ballot by hundreds of volunteers in a grassroots campaign to collect 15,500 signatures from San Francisco registered voters, Prop I states in part:
Whereas, over 1500 American soldiers have died and tens of thousands have been injured physically and psychologically in Iraq; and,
Whereas, 100,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation; and,
Whereas, the “No Child Left Behind Act” forces all high schools that receive federal money to give personal records of all children to the military for the purposes of recruiting; and,
Whereas, the federal Solomon Amendment specifically orders colleges and universities that receive federal money to violate their own legal policies of non-discrimination against gays and lesbians; and,
Whereas, the Pentagon budget, over $400 billion per year, plus $300 billion more over the last three years for the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, is draining desperately needed resources for schools, health care and jobs; now, therefore, be it
Resolved, that the people of San Francisco oppose U.S. military recruiters using public school, college and university facilities to recruit young people into the armed forces.”
Proposition I has been endorsed by over 75 groups, including the San Francisco Labor Council, United Educators of San Francisco teachers union, Local SEIU 790, National Lawyers Guild, Campus Antiwar Network, American Friends Service Committee, Code Pink, Justice in Palestine Coalition, International Socialist Organization, Mexican American People’s Association, and personally by Cindy Sheehan of Gold Star Families for Peace.
Proposition I won’t automatically end recruitment because San Francisco can’t override federal law. But by making it the official policy of the city, Prop I will give activists, parents, students and teachers valuable help in their campus-by-campus efforts to end recruitment, as well as establish the necessary background for schools and the city to challenge No Child Left Behind and the Solomon Amendment.
TODD CHRETIEN is a frequent contributor to CounterPunch and the International Socialist Review. He can be reached at: email@example.com