SANTEE, Calif. — Hundreds of protesters confronted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from San Diego to Santa Monica as the governor took to the road to promote a series of initiatives he placed on the November ballot and to address graduates at his alma mater.
Schwarzenegger’s first stop Tuesday was in this San Diego suburb, where he visited a retired couple who said they couldn’t afford any new property taxes to cover state spending. He promised not to tamper with Proposition 13, the landmark initiative that limits property tax increases.
The governor is backing three ballot initiatives that call for imposing a cap on state spending, stripping lawmakers of the power to draw their own districts and increasing the time it takes teachers to gain tenure.
Democrats have proposed raising taxes on upper income residents to pay for education but have not seriously advocated other new taxes.
Schwarzenegger didn’t mention his proposals during his 15-minute commencement speech at Santa Monica College on Tuesday night, instead recalling his days as a college student, a world champion bodybuilder and an actor.
“I found so much joy educating myself at this college,” he told the students. “Work, work, work. Study, study, study,” he exhorted them.
The governor’s initiative proposals were clearly on the minds of the audience, however, which heckled his every word with hoots, whistles and catcalls. A few people also cheered him. At one point a police officer pulled down a sign being held up by protesters ridiculing the cost to taxpayers of the special election, which is expected to exceed $45 million.
Most of the reaction, both positive and negative, seemed to come not from the graduating seniors in their caps and gowns, but from an audience of several thousand people there to witness the graduation.
Schwarzenegger stuck to his speech and ignored the protests.
About 200 anti-Schwarzenegger demonstrators gathered outside the entrance to the college stadium where Schwarzenegger spoke, with more scattered around the stadium and on nearby streets. About two dozen pro-Schwarzenegger demonstrators also showed up.
“The governor’s war on education does nothing to help students,” said Trevor Dilling. The 28-year-old student said he quit his job to return to college and was having trouble affording tuition, which has increased more than 40 percent in the past year.
Dilling, a volunteer for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, was wearing a chicken suit, which was symbolic, the foundation said, of Schwarzenegger’s being “too chicken” to discuss funding for education with students.
One of the pro-Schwarzenegger contingent, Ben Eisenberg, said he believed only a small clique of faculty and students on campus objected to the governor’s speech. He said he supported the right of Schwarzenegger’s opponents to demonstrate, but was disappointed that it was detracting from the college’s graduation.
“This should be about the students, this should not be political,” the 28-year-old economics major and president of the Santa Monica College Republicans said.
In San Diego, Schwarzenegger met with Paul and Hermine Kendrick, who bought their home 46 years ago for $13,000 and now live on a fixed income.
“Without Proposition 13, we wouldn’t be able to live here,” 86-year-old Hermine Kendrick said.
More than 50 protesters representing the California School Employees Association walked the sidewalk in front of the home, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Schwarzenegger has got to go.”
One wore a Schwarzenegger mask and had a sign reading “True Liar,” a takeoff on Schwarzenegger’s film “True Lies.”
The Republican governor is forging ahead despite a recent poll that shows a majority of voters oppose a special election estimated to cost about $45 million.
On Monday, Schwarzenegger announced he would call the special election Nov. 8 for voters to consider measures aimed at curtailing the power of the Democrat-controlled Legislature and public employee unions.
Even more important to rival Democrats is an initiative promoted by Schwarzenegger supporters that would restrict the use of union dues for political purposes.
The ballot would be only the fifth special election in California since 1910 and will bring voters to the polls for the fourth statewide election in just two years.
Associated Press writer Michael Blood in Santa Monica contributed to this story.