As lawyers scrambled to resurrect one of his most important voter initiatives, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Monday that he would not cancel the Nov. 8 special election.
“I will continue moving forward exactly as I have been,” Schwarzenegger said at an event in the Capitol that encouraged children to eat healthy foods. “We need reform.”
Earlier, attorneys asked the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento to overturn last Thursday’s decision by a Superior Court judge to strike Proposition 77 from the ballot.
The so-called redistricting initiative would transfer the power to draw California’s legislative and congressional boundaries from the Legislature to a panel of retired judges. Because lawmakers have designed their voting districts to maintain the status quo, the governor has called such a change critical to making elections more competitive and politicians more responsive to voters.
The appellate court moved quickly to grant a temporary stay of the lower court ruling so that Proposition 77 could still appear in the voter information guide that the secretary of state will put on public display beginning today. Such displays are designed to allow the public to challenge wording in the guide before 12 million copies are printed and mailed starting Aug. 15.
In granting the temporary stay, appellate justices said they had not yet decided the merits of the case.
Schwarzenegger’s legal secretary, Peter Siggins, wrote a letter to the Court of Appeal on Monday in support of such a stay.
“The governor believes a new process for legislative redistricting is an important reform for California’s future, and that the people should be given the opportunity to consider this reform as soon as possible,” Siggins wrote.
Schwarzenegger told reporters Monday that he was “very happy” about the appeal. Excluding the redistricting initiative, the special election features two measures he endorses and four others on which he has taken no position. The governor-backed measures would limit state spending and make it more difficult for public school teachers to get tenure.
But the two initiatives are a much scaled-back version of the government overhaul Schwarzenegger had spelled out in his State of the State speech in January. Schwarzenegger’s approval among voters has since plummeted to a low point of 34%, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, and 54% of those polled oppose a special election in November.
The governor said he would prefer a “bipartisan solution,” in which he and the Democrats who lead the Legislature would place some sort of modified initiative on the ballot.
“I’m not going to give up on that,” Schwarzenegger said. “I’m going to continue working on it. And hopefully we will reach that kind of compromise and can go to the special election together.”
No talks are scheduled this week. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) is spending a week in France and Sweden to learn about preschool programs on a trip paid for by the William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonprofit Latino policy and research organization. And Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) has no plans to meet the governor this week, his staff said.
In striking Proposition 77 from the ballot last week, Judge Gail Ohanesian of the Sacramento County Superior Court agreed with Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer that initiative proponents had violated the Constitution by giving Lockyer one version of the measure to approve but circulating a shorter draft on thousands of petitions. Lockyer, who is responsible for writing a title and summary that tells voters what the measure would do if passed, sued July 8, arguing that any revision violated the law.
Daniel Kolkey, an attorney for People’s Advocate, called the changes in the two versions “stylistic” and “immaterial.” The will of more than 950,000 people who signed petitions to put the measure on the ballot should not be denied, he said.
But Ohanesian called the differences “substantive” and said proponents can recirculate the approved version and qualify the measure for the June 2006 ballot.
In his appeal, Kolkey said Ohanesian overreached and instead should have found that proponents were in “substantial compliance” with the law.
“Judicial power has long been to apply a liberal construction to the people’s power of initiative,” he wrote.
In a rebuttal, Deputy Atty. Gen. Vickie Whitney urged the appellate court to strike Proposition 77 from the voter guide.
“The proponents can still seek to qualify the initiative for a future ballot, but they should not seek to further confuse the public by putting a defective version on public display,” she wrote.
Lance Olson, a Sacramento attorney who is representing the No on Proposition 77 committee, said that, by including the measure in the voter guide for at least the next 20 days, the court was preserving the status quo until it can weigh the case.
“We think the court’s simply being cautious here,” he said.
In the past, appellate court justices have recused themselves from cases involving Kolkey, a former 3rd District Court judge who was appointed by former Gov. Pete Wilson but resigned less than two years ago to join a law firm.