Published November 09, 2005
LOS ANGELES – In a stinging rebuke from voters who elected him two years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's efforts to reshape state government were rejected during a special election that darkened his prospects for a second term.
The Republican governor and former Hollywood actor, who likes to say he can sell anything, on Tuesday saw all four of his signature ballot proposals rejected.
The election pitted the once-dominant Republican governor against two of California's powerhouse political forces — public employee unions and Democrats who control the Legislature.
The unions spent millions of dollars to beat Schwarzenegger's propositions to limit the use of their member dues for political purposes, cap state spending, redraw legislative districts and restrict public-school teacher tenure.
It was a sobering evening for a man once considered among the most popular politicians in America. The contest represented the biggest test yet of a faltering Schwarzenegger's leadership.
Voters overwhelmingly defeated Proposition 76, the governor's centerpiece proposal to slow the growth of state spending. Proposition 77, which would have redrawn legislative and congressional districts, was knocked down by a similar margin.
Poll after poll showed it was an election that Californians didn't want, with a total lineup of eight initiatives that didn't connect with everyday issues such as gas prices, housing costs and the war in Iraq.
Schwarzenegger's conflict with the unions made him a target for teachers, nurses and firefighters. Their television advertising blitz helped push his popularity ratings to record lows.
Union leaders and Democrats who opposed the governor chanted "sweep, sweep" at their Sacramento victory party.
"I'm very grateful to Arnold Schwarzenegger for really working people up," said Deborah Burger, president of the California Nurses Association.
Schwarzenegger's proposals to curb spending and weaken unions inflamed passions on both sides, partly because of the election's roughly $50 million cost in a state that repeatedly faces budget shortfalls.
Appearing before supporters at a Beverly Hills hotel after learning that at least two of his initiatives had failed, a smiling governor did not concede defeat.
"Tomorrow, we begin anew," Schwarzenegger said, his wife Maria Shriver beside him. "I feel the same tonight as that night two years ago ... You know with all my heart, I want to do the right thing for the people of California."
Though some of the measures were complex, Schwarzenegger cast the election in simple terms: Support him and the state moves forward — vote no and protect a broken system of government in Sacramento.
"I guess I didn't do a good enough job to convince them otherwise," the governor said of voters.
Tim Wong, 48, an independent from Belmont, called the election "a waste of the meager money we have."
"These propositions were a diversion from the important issues," Wong said. "It's all show and no substance."
In other ballot measures decided Tuesday:
— Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, making their state the 19th to take that step. In Maine, however, voters rejected a conservative-backed proposal to repeal the state's new gay-rights law.
— Voters in the Texas community of White Settlement, named 160 years ago after white settlers moved into a mostly Indian area, emphatically rejected a proposal to change the town's name to West Settlement.
— In Ohio, where the 2004 presidential election was marked by complaints of unfair election practices, four election-overhaul measures backed by Democratic-leaning groups were on the ballot, but all were defeated. One of the failed items would have taken redistricting powers away from legislators.