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first_imgIf Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t already know how deep and wide his political problems are, he certainly will on Tuesday night – if California’s three major public-opinion polls are correct. No California governor has ever identified more closely with a series of ballot initiatives than Schwarzenegger did this fall with Propositions 74, 75, 76 and 77. All four trailed in every significant survey during the week before the special election that Schwarzenegger called, and the likely margin appears close for only one, Proposition 74, the attempt to extend the time teachers must work before acquiring tenure. Even more significant for Schwarzenegger was one finding of the Field Poll: that only 4 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of independents likely to vote said the governor’s support for a measure made them more inclined to vote for it. Together, Democrats and independents make up more than 60 percent of the state’s registered voters. “(They) have clearly tuned him out,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo told a reporter. “When he endorses something, they are very cynical of that initiative.” If these poll results prove accurate, the first big consequence would be a dramatic change in the state’s political dynamic, completely defusing the major weapon Schwarzenegger has held over the state Legislature since his election. For much of the last two years, he lashed legislators with threats to “take the case for reform to the people” unless they kowtowed. In the closing days of the special election campaign, he’s still talking about floating new initiatives next year. But now he has actually taken his case to the voters. He called this election despite polls that indicated the vast majority of Californians considered it a waste of time and tens of millions of dollars. If the current surveys are right, the very legislators the governor called “girlie men” and “losers” will have whipped him soundly. Any future threats to bypass them would become impotent. Some Democrats say this would also leave Schwarzenegger little hope for re-election next year. “The voters have made up their minds about him, just like they did with (ex-Gov.) Gray Davis in 2003,” said Garry South, once the senior adviser to Davis and now running state Controller Steve Westly’s campaign for governor. “When they do that, there’s nothing you can do. Everything you do just reinforces what they already think. Davis spent $20 million fighting the recall, but his numbers were exactly the same on election day as they were the day the recall started collecting signatures.” Plenty of others, though, contend that even if all his pet measures go down, Schwarzenegger still might be able to recover the massive popularity he once enjoyed. But he would have to change – and soon. “The jury is still out on whether he can resurrect himself,” said Bill Carrick, the longtime Democratic consultant who will run U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election campaign next year. Said South: “He has to come up with something completely bipartisan, something much more than the phony media events he likes so much. But he’ll be constrained because it’s his re-election year, and that campaign will engage on Wednesday, the day after this election. He’ll have at least two Democrats swinging at him all year.” One thing Schwarzenegger could do: Renew some of the promises he made as he began running to replace Davis, especially the one about not taking large campaign donations from special interests. At several television-studio “town halls” this fall, Schwarzenegger hinted he might do something like that, promising to back an initiative proposal, now circulating, to force corporations to seek shareholder permission before making political donations, much as Proposition 75 would require annual checkoffs before unions can make similar use of dues they collect. If Proposition 75 loses, as the polls suggest it will, Schwarzenegger could craft a new initiative requiring political spending checkoffs from both corporate stockholders and union members. That could eliminate the charge of unfairness that has bedeviled Proposition 75 and go far toward re-establishing Schwarzenegger’s credentials as a sincere reformer, rather than a mere mouthpiece for his big-business contributors. It also wouldn’t hurt if he began by starting immediately to reject all corporate donations to all his committees. (He gets none from unions.) This would force him to depend on individual donors and his own cash – the very thing he promised from the start and a condition all federal candidates live with. Two moves seem certain if most or all Schwarzenegger’s proposals lose Tuesday: One must-do item would be to take a long and critical look at his staff, largely inherited from Republican ex-Gov. Pete Wilson. “Nobody there now looks after Schwarzenegger’s interests first,” said Republican consultant Arnold Steinberg. “It’s been a consultant-driven operation for the benefit of consultants. For sure, consultants have banked millions of dollars during the special-election season. The second item would be to reposition himself back to where he started, as a nonpolitical bipartisan figure. He could do that by making strong and visible efforts to work on hard issues, like health care and highway building, with the Democrats who lead the Legislature – no longer calling them names whenever they refuse to roll over for him. But would they cooperate after all the insults the governor has hurled their way? Or he could throw up his hands in disgust and dismay and say that since the voters don’t like his concept of reform, he’s going back to movie-making. Which would leave the Republican Party without a viable candidate for governor next year. Thomas D. Elias is a writer living in Southern California. Write to him by e-mail at [email protected] AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more