Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Governor pivots to campaign mode

SACRAMENTO — Moments after signing a $103.4 billion budget — an unprecedented 85 days past the constitutional deadline and in the quiet, unceremonious environs of his office — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged from the Capitol hopeful that the just-completed budget debacle could bolster his case for government reform.

Standing amid red-shirted AARP activists holding signs such as "Yes on 11 — Stop Partisan Paralysis," the governor declared that there never was a better case for stripping lawmakers of the power to draw their own political boundaries, as Proposition 11 would do, and hand it to a 14-member commission.

"I just left my office and signed the budget, one of the first times we didn't do a ceremony," Schwarzenegger said. "Why I didn't feel like celebrating in the rotunda is because it is inexplicable that the budget is three months late. It is three months late because both parties stayed in their ideological corners and refused to come out."

He blamed his inability to get the budget done on time — on top of his failure to win health care and water reforms — on redistricting, which he said "rewards legislators for rigid partisanship and ... punishes legislators for wanting to come to the middle and compromise."

The current redistricting system, he said, insulates lawmakers from competitive general elections and has resulted in only one seat that's changed party hands in the past 340 Advertisementlegislative and congressional races.

"We all know what happens when there is no competition," he said. "There is a lack of performance. Imagine if (Michael) Phelps was standing at the starting line and no one else. You think he would break all those records?"

Schwarzenegger's pivot to the campaign mode as co-chairman of Proposition 11 comes at a time when the ballot measure is stagnating in the polls, despite high voter frustration with Sacramento and a desire to scrap the current system.

"There does seem to be a kind of cognitive dissonance going on," said David Schechter, a Fresno State political science professor who endorsed Proposition 11, "where voters are upset with lawmakers, yet when it comes to a physical restructuring of the system, they just don't seem to want to come on board or take the leap."

Opponents have pounded home the message that the ballot measure is a power grab by Republicans, the same theme that led to the defeat of Schwarzenegger's 2005 attempt at redistricting and other reforms.

A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California maintained that redistricting reform will not end partisan gridlock. More central to the problem, it said, are the influence of lobbyists and interest groups, campaign finance laws, term limits, and the polarized atmosphere in politics around the nation.

But the ballot measure has the endorsement of more than 1,700 groups and individuals from a broad array of political backgrounds, including former Gov. Gray Davis and former state controller Steve Westly, both Democrats. Most of the financial backing has come from Republican donors, however.

"This is the most powerful politician of this state advancing his political agenda," said Paul Hefner, spokesman for the No on 11 campaign, "which is to give him and the politicians he agrees with more power."

Hefner added that Schwarzenegger signed the budget "behind closed doors because he's so ashamed" of it, and that he set up the campaign event as a "smoke screen so he doesn't have to take responsibility for cuts he has to make."

Legislators agreed to $7.1 billion in cuts to help close the estimated $15.2 billion gap between expenditures and revenues. On Tuesday, Schwarzenegger line-item vetoed $510 million more from programs.

Schwarzenegger said he hopes to hold a special election, most likely in June, to get voter approval of several other government reform measures he's pushing. Part of the budget agreement hinged on voter approval of a plan to borrow against $10 billion in future Lottery profits and of an increase in the rainy day fund to $12.5 billion.

Democrats have vowed to go to the ballot with a plan to eliminate the two-thirds vote required to pass a budget. Schwarzenegger, has been opposed to changing that law, in place since the 1930s.

"At this point, he supports the two-thirds requirement," said spokesman Aaron McLear. "It ensures that both parties have a seat at the table."

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