SPECIAL ELECTION - SCHWARZENEGGER'S NUCLEAR OPTION
by Sandy Leon Vest
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is "seeking to win through a special election, unilateral power to make cuts in health and other vital services..." This according to the Health Access Update, a consumer-oriented e-newsletter that tracks the moves of the governor and state legislature. The possibility of a special election has hung over California since January, when the governor outlined his proposals for overhauling state government. At that time he threatened to take his ideas to the voters if legislators rejected his ideas.
If the power grab is successful, the governor would effectively be self-authorized to reintroduce proposals for health care cuts previously rejected by legislators. Schwarzenegger's special election would enable him to force thousands of seniors, disabled and families into HMOs, impose Medi-Cal premiums on those living just over the federal poverty level and use a federal waiver to shift responsibility of hospital reimbursements from the state to the counties.
There are eight initiatives that may appear on the special election ballot. The initiatives could shift the balance of power in California's Capitol. Republican allies have already submitted petitions to place pro-Schwarzenegger committee "Citizens to Save California," who are promoting the special election, accepts more than $25,000 from any one person, the governor would be barred from appearing in the group's television advertisements during the 6 weeks before the next election in which he appears on the ballot -- the June 2006 gubernatorial primary. The governor is pushing a 2005 election to avoid that campaign law and raise unlimited funds. Democrats say he has been intent all along on declaring political nuclear war through a special election.
Thus far, Democrats have not produced any counter-initiatives with real teeth Ñ such as a proposal to ban corporate contributions. That lack of political courage has eased the way for the governor to call the election. "Right now there is no downside for him," one GOP spokesperson recently told the press. But the Alliance for a Better California Ñ a coalition of labor unions, consumer groups and advocates for the elderly Ñ is also busy drafting a petition for the measure. One union official and alliance spokesman warned, "If the governor is insisting on calling a special election, we will use this opportunity to do something real and tangible." Such an effort to defeat the initiative would likely draw money from across the country.
Other groups aligned with Democratic lawmakers have submitted petitions for an initiative that would lower prescription drug prices and for another to re-regulate the state's energy market. Passage of either would be a rebuke to Schwarzenegger, who vetoed legislative versions of the measures last year. The pharmaceutical industry has $6.5 million to combat the initiative and industry officials say they will raise "whatever it takes." Ex-congressman Billy Tauzin, now president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, announced that the industry was filing signatures in favor of its own initiative. That same initiative was introduced by Schwarzenegger last year but rejected by Democratic lawmakers, who have been fighting Schwarzenegger tooth and nail on proposed cuts to education, health care and community-based programs for the aged and the very young.
Voter turnout could be especially low in a special election with no candidates on the ballot. Over $40 million has already been raised for initiative campaigns and election officials say the cost could exceed $70 million - with counties picking up most of that sum. The cost would be highest if a vote were scheduled on a day other than Nov. 8, when 61 jurisdictions from counties to water districts are holding a regularly scheduled election. Officials say it would be next to impossible for them to hold another election in subsequent weeks.
THINK GLOBALLY, ACT NOW
Devastating as the impact of a special election could be for California and its residents, the greater threat may be what this election represents on a global scale. As George W Bush attempts to export his strange version of democracy to distant shores, here at home taking power from the people seems to be the operative mode. Since Bush declared the United Nations "irrelevant" prior to the US assault on Iraq, his theory of irrelevance has trickled down through the halls of congress and infiltrated every aspect of federal, state and local government. Republicans' recent bid to eliminate Democrats' ability to filibuster present and future appeals court and Supreme Court nominees is emblematic of this trend, as are the Patriot Act, tort and bankruptcy reform and Bush's ill-advised nomination of John Bolton to the UN.
The Bush administration and Republican loyalists, including California's governor, have been highly effective at ramming through their political agenda using heavy-handed tactics that include controlling the political debate through intimidation and pressuring the media to change the national conversation by shifting its focus from the news to the messenger. Their bullying has had a chilling effect on debate and dissent both domestically and internationally and has effectively stifled the mainstream media in the U on the ballot three measures being pushed by the governor - one that would curb state spending, another that would strip legislators of the power to decide the boundaries of their own districts and still another that would delay tenure for public school teachers. Social conservatives are further submitting an initiative that would require minors seeking abortions to wait until two days after their parents or guardians have been informed by a doctor of the impending procedure.
Along with an initiative that challenges unions' political might, the measures would undermine the clout and financing of the Democratic Party and the authority of the Legislature Ñ the one branch of government Democrats have controlled for the last decade. Schwarzenegger has until mid-June to call a November election, so there is still time for lawmakers to reach agreements with him. They could then place such agreements on the ballot, and the governor and his allies could abandon their three initiatives, asking voters to reject them. Or, he could not call an election and enact everything through legislation.
The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) believes the election is little more than a political ruse. FTCR calls Schwarzenegger's plan to call a special election for November "an attempt to evade campaign finance laws" that would otherwise prohibit him from raising unlimited funds and appearing in campaign advertisements for his ballot measures in 2006. "A governor who ran for office on a platform of limiting the influence of money in politics should not be calling a special election to evade current campaign finance limitations," wrote FTCR. "An election crafted to get around campaign finance laws would be any politician's dream, but it is a nightmare for taxpayers who should not be forced to pick up the bill."
The Political Reform Act states that any committee that runs political advertisements for a candidate within 45 days of an election cannot accept campaign contributions above $25,000 from any one person. If theS. From the firing of CBS's Dan Rather to the sudden and odd focus on Newsweek's 'mis-reporting' of Korans being flushed down toilets at Guantanamo Bay, the Bush administration has largely succeeded in taking the spotlight off the news, and shifting it to those who report the news. It has also succeeded in marginalizing or discrediting all but its most diehard loyalists. The administration's take on leadership as license-to-do-anything has taken hold of a Republican majority that doesn't just rule, it makes - and breaks - the rules. The Bush administration's disdainful attitude toward 'the people' now threatens to decimate what remains of citizen empowerment through representative government - in the state, the country and the world at large. It represents the first time in the nation's history that "we the people" have all-but-officially been declared 'irrelevant.'
It is against this political backdrop that California's governor calls for a "special election."
But Schwarzenegger's poll numbers have slid precipitously as he has pushed his plans. "If the governor prevails...on his proposals, this will give him a resurgence of momentum and likely break the back of the Democratic opposition," said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University. "If he loses, after putting all of his prestige on the line, this will cut the legs out from under him. We're really looking at a crossroads here."
Yolo County Clerk-Recorder Freddie Oakley says she may defy Schwarzenegger and refuse to hold a special election, although she acknowledged that a court could force her to comply. Oakley said a Nov. 8 election would cost her county $100,000, and on any other day, about $330,000. Marin County residents should go to school on Oakley's courageous stand and encourage Marin County Clerk Michael Smith to join her.
Write, phone or email Michael Smith, Governor Schwarzenegger, California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson and any or all of the representatives listed on the back page of the Coastal Post.
Sandy Leon Vest
Renewable Energy Advocate
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