The End of Arnie's Days

At Arnold Schwarzenegger's "victory" party on Election Night 2004, the governor stood onstage and basked in ballot proposal wins for Propositions 68 and 70, both about Indian gaming, and against 66, which would have changed the Three Strikes Law. But Republicans got nothing else out of him -- not one seat in the Assembly, not one seat in the Senate, no new congressional offices. One year later, it's no surprise he's again pushing his agenda via special election. But Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) says this particular slate of propositions is more than just another end-run around the state's elected legislators. She calls it the "corporate takeover of California."

This time, she argues, the issues on the ballot are carefully linked together and designed -- using corporate money -- to advance conservative interests and to keep Democrats away from the polls. She claims the governor even said as much in an e-mail to supporters. If he succeeds, she says, it's a "catastrophe," creating a governorship that no longer needs a legislature: "They're saying, 'Heck with this notion of democracy. It's so burdensome. It's so time-consuming. It gets in the way.'" She calls it a short-sighted act of political sabotage. Is Arnold set on a course to cripple the government?

Why do you call these propositions the "corporate takeover of California"?

Jackie Goldberg: If you take a look at who's paying for all of this, it's really extraordinarily large businesses. And they're not even all California corporations - the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent a quarter of a million dollars on one of them. That's in addition to the California Chamber, which tends to represent the largest corporations. You've got all the major pharmaceutical companies spending a fortune confusing the people about Propositions 78 and 79. You've got huge amounts of pharmaceutical money in Proposition 75. In fact, there is not a single one of these that isn't being financed by the largest corporations and the biggest players -- not just in California. The governor has fund-raised in New York, in New Jersey, in Florida. They're after a Tom DeLay-kinda takeover like he did in Texas.

How does Proposition 76 turn Schwarzenegger into a king?

Right now, it takes a two-thirds vote of the legislature and the governor to do a budget. If this were to pass, that's no longer going to be true. Because if eight Republicans refuse to vote for the budget, which they're willing to do if they've got a Republican governor, then the budget won't be on time and then the governor gets to decide what to put in and what to take out. Well, can you imagine a Republican assemblyperson or senator voting for a budget again, as long as there was a Republican governor? No! And if the reverse were true, the Democrats wouldn't either. This isn't partisan. This is about making any governor king.

Is the governor showing his true colors with this slate?

I have no idea who the guy is. I thought he was fiscally conservative and moderate to -- God forbid -- maybe even the L-word [liberal] on some of the social issues. But he's been singularly reactionary on all of them. I don't know if that's who he is, or if it's what his advisors tell him to do. But he's alienated all the Democrats and most of the independents.

This is a losing strategy for them. They've never been able to win a single statewide election unless they can attract large numbers of independents and about 20 percent of the Democrats. So, when you do this, you're saying, "I don't want to be governor again." Or, "My fame as an actor will carry me anyway." I don't think so. I don't mean to be nasty about this. This is sort of like Bush saying, "I'm going to do as much damage to the social programs and to the safety net and everything else that we right-wingers are trying to get rid of, as I can. I'll put in place things that will make it impossible for anyone to govern."

Did corporate interests just give him a whole new agenda?

I don't think that's what happened. Let's just take the teacher tenure issue [Proposition 74]: The chair of the Senate Education Committee, a moderate guy named Jack Scott, went to the governor in January, and said, "We have three-year tenure in the state community colleges. I was a community college president. I'll negotiate a deal with you." And Schwarzenegger's staff wasn't interested. They told him, "This is what we want" - which is what's on the ballot - "and there is no negotiation."

I think the decisions were already made, and it's because this is really Pete Wilson, Part III. Pete Wilson's whole staff, practically, is running the governor's office. And they didn't get it under Pete Wilson, so they're going to try to use the panache of a famous Hollywood star to get it all done.

Proposition 77 seems nonpartisan. Why do you say that all the redistricting judges will be Republicans?

Who appointed all the people who are old enough to be retired judges, who have enough money not to be paid for a year? It's Deukmejian and it's Wilson. Now, if they were saying "people sitting on the bench now," you might have gotten us to go along with it. But it's very difficult to become a judge and be anything but centrist or right-of-center. It's almost impossible to be a liberal and be appointed a judge in this state, or any other state. Gray Davis didn't appoint too many of them. So they're happy with retirees.

But isn't every election filled with corporate-backed propositions?

Yeah, but it's not like a concerted effort. This is the first time they've all kind of come together. The only one that's been done by anyone other than large corporate interests is the attempt to end abortion in California disguised as parental notification [Proposition 73]. But embedded in this is a change in the definition of when life begins. It is designed to force a future legislature to do anti-choice legislation that will be found constitutional by the state Supreme Court. And it has very little, if anything, to do with parental consent.

That helps get the conservatives out.

That's why he's supporting it. He wants them to come out and vote for his stuff, so he's going to support their stuff. That's why he is so disappointing.

Is it a lost opportunity for real reform?

We thought that maybe there'd be a chance to take a new look at school funding, because of what he said in his campaign: "There's nothing more important than Proposition 98." Well, you know, Proposition 76 ends Proposition 98.

Because it gives him the power to decide the school budget?

That's right, but more than that. It changes the rules of Proposition 98. It says that if the money goes down in any given year, you re-set the base. But if it goes up in any given year, you keep the old base. The [state] legislative analyst's office says that, in the first year or two, it should cost the schools $4 billion. Right off the top.

Are there consequences for the Democrats if they don't do well in this election?

Oh, heavens, yes. It's a catastrophe for us if this goes through. We will never again have a safety net for healthcare. We will never again have a guaranteed minimum for schools. You lose by a third, at least, the amount of money available to employee groups, unions ... to fight this onslaught by the corporations. You'll have undone choice in a completely pro-choice state. You will have deprived the Democratic Party of major donations from unions. You will have made the legislature almost irrelevant when it comes to the budget. And you will have put in the hands of very conservative old white men, three of them, the redistricting of the state's districts. How is that not catastrophic?

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