National Public Radio – All Things Considered
MICHELE NORRIS, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I’m Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I’m Robert Siegel. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is vowing to call a special election if the state’s Democrat-controlled Legislature refuses to pass what he calls his reform agenda. And he’s backing up the threat by raising millions of dollars to take his issues straight to the voters. But the governor’s opponents are not cowed; they’re also gearing up for a fight, as NPR’s Ina Jaffe reports.
INA JAFFE reporting: It’s no longer a foregone conclusion that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be
greeted with cheers wherever he goes. His critics are becoming more numerous, more varied and more visible; chief among them are nurses. He suspended a law mandating a specific ration of nurses to patients. And members of the California Nurses Association have dogged his tracks throughout California and even across the country. In Long Beach last December, they tried to disrupt his speech at a state conference on women and families.
(Soundbite of speech)
Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): Pay no attention to those voices over there, by the way. Those are the special interests, if you know what I mean, OK? The special interests just don’t like me in Sacramento because I’m always kicking their butt. That’s why they don’t like me. (Laughs)
JAFFE: The court has so far sided with the nurses on the staffing law. But Schwarzenegger’s definition of ‘special interests’ has provoked an ongoing political battle. According to the governor, the term includes public employees who are opposed to his plan to privatize their pensions and teachers who have broadcast their opposition to the governor in a radio campaign.
(Soundbite of radio commercial; phone ringing)
Unidentified Woman: Governor’s office.
Unidentified Man: Hi. I was calling because I’m worried California’s public schools just aren’t getting the funding they need.
Unidentified Woman: Uh-huh.
JAFFE: The money that the teachers are worried about is the $2 billion that the education establishment gave up last year to help Schwarzenegger balance the budget. He promised to pay it back this year. Now he says the state can’t afford it.
Mr. DOUG HELLER (Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights): For Arnold Schwarzenegger, a special interest is anybody who doesn’t support him or give him money.
JAFFE: Doug Heller is with the non-partisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which has been tracking Schwarzenegger’s fund-raising.
Mr. HELLER: Governor Schwarzenegger took $350,000 from pharmaceutical companies and then vetoed bills to make prescription drugs more affordable. He took a million dollars from car dealerships and then vetoed the Car Buyers’ Bill of Rights. We have seen time and again instances where the big contributors are getting what they want from Schwarzenegger.
JAFFE: The governor raised $29 million last year. But Rob Stutzman, the governor’s spokesman, says it’s ridiculous to think the money buys influence.
Mr. ROB STUTZMAN (Spokesperson for Governor Schwarzenegger): No, there’s no access that’s sold. If you go to a fund-raiser with the governor, you get to say hi to him and you get a picture with him and that’s it. There’s no policy discussed, of course, and there’s no special favors that are exchanged. I mean, as the governor’s said many times, he just simply cannot be bought.
JAFFE: Schwarzenegger said he’ll need to raise $50 million to promote his special election initiatives. So far he’s held fund-raisers in Cincinnati, New York and Washington, DC, with more to come in California. And he’s fighting a regulation that stops his initiative campaign from collecting unlimited contributions. His agenda includes changing the way legislative districts are drawn and limiting state spending. The governor’s spokesman, Rob Stutzman, says this is an extension of the recall that put Schwarzenegger in office.
Mr. STUTZMAN: As the governor says, people didn’t send him here to hang, to hang out. And so he wants to expedite what the believes the mandate of the voters to reform the government and the political system of California.
JAFFE: The voters may not be in as much of a hurry as the governor. According to a recent Field Poll, they opposed holding a special election by a 2:1 margin when they learned it would cost $70 million. Also, a November special election would be the sixth statewide contest in the past four years. Schwarzenegger’s been successful using ballot measure campaigns. But Robert Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies says the question is whether Schwarzenegger is in danger of overusing them.
Mr. ROBERT STERN (Center for Governmental Studies): Will the public get tired of all this? Will the public tire of his going back to the well each election year saying, ‘Here are more ballot measures that you have to adopt in order to save the state’?
JAFFE: Schwarzenegger would not have a special election ballot all to himself. His opponents are preparing measures to raise the minimum wage, guarantee school funding and make prescription drugs more affordable. It’ll be another big job for California’s hard-working voters. Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.