Schwarzenegger’s Pen Sends a Clear Message

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Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s weariness with unions and the Legislature -- two institutions whose influence he is trying to curb through the special election he called for next month -- was on full display as he dispatched many of the ideas lawmakers approved this year.

Often agreeing with the California Chamber of Commerce, one of the main architects of his agenda in the Nov. 8 election, the Republican governor vetoed many of labor’s top priorities.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Oct. 15, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 15, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Bill signings -- An article in Sunday’s California section about bills signed into law said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation authorizing California’s Employment Training Panel to award contracts to projects that train workers in seasonal industries. The governor vetoed the measure.

Schwarzenegger’s actions made unions, who are leading the opposition to his ballot proposals, among the bigger losers in a year when the governor found much to offer those on both sides of many issues, including the environment, gay rights and consumer protection.


Though Schwarzenegger signed a number of union-sponsored measures -- in some cases, against the wishes of his business allies -- labor’s achievements were light years away from the heady days when Schwarzenegger’s predecessor, Democrat Gray Davis, routinely approved ambitious union requests.

“Organized labor in California, which is really a cornerstone of the labor movement in this country, is on the ropes,” said Larry Gerston, a professor of political science at San Jose State University. “If you’re the forces of business and are anti-tax, and you see this kind of success here, you’ve got to be licking your lips in terms of what’s going to happen in 2006.”

Over the last month, Schwarzenegger rejected measures that would have cracked down on employers who delay paying workers’ compensation claims or fail to pay the minimum wage or overtime. He declined to raise the minimum wage, provide unemployment insurance to striking workers who are locked out, or pay particularly productive agricultural and garment workers more money during their rest breaks.


He vetoed the one bill sponsored by the California Teachers Assn. -- the biggest single funder of the campaign against him. The union measure would have required the state to repay $500 million that lawmakers cut from the teachers’ retirement fund in 2003.

Schwarzenegger has long complained about the influence unions have in the Democratic-led Legislature. One of the ballot initiatives would restrict their ability to use members’ dues for politics. Labor is on track to spend more than $100 million to defeat that and four other initiatives the governor has endorsed.

Yet Schwarzenegger’s opposition to union measures was hardly inviolable as he judged 961 bills. By the time he finished late Friday, he had vetoed just shy of a quarter of them -- the same rate as last year.


He broke with the Chamber of Commerce and the state’s manufacturers and technology lobby in extending the statute of limitations by giving people more time to sue for employment discrimination suffered when they were teenagers.

Schwarzenegger approved a bill sponsored by the Service Employees International Union -- one of his main opponents in the coming election -- that requires the state to do more extensive vetting of prospective hospital owners.

He authorized California’s Employment Training Panel to award contracts to projects that train workers in seasonal industries, even though manufacturing and business groups complained that would divert money from industries that offered permanent jobs.

Still, Schwarzenegger’s allies in the fall election, including his biggest sources of donations, fared well overall. Longtime supporters of the governor said they were generally satisfied, even though they didn’t get everything they wanted.

He rejected seven of eight bills the Chamber of Commerce had labeled as “job killers.” The one he did support bans the sending of unsolicited advertising faxes from California.

“Putting all the campaign rhetoric aside, if you look at his track record, it’s very consistent with what he presented himself to be when he ran for governor,” said Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee.


Schwarzenegger disappointed California’s car dealers by refusing to increase the fee they can charge for paperwork involved in vehicle sales, and by requiring labels on new cars to detail their emissions of gases linked to global warming.

But he signed a compromise the industry had worked out with consumer activists that capped excessive loans and other abusive sales practices.

“From our perspective, the Car Buyers Bill of Rights was so much more important than any other bill we were lobbying,” said Brian Maas, the lobbyist for the California Motor Car Dealers Assn.

For a politician who has been pummeled by accusations that he has become a corporate lackey, Schwarzenegger offered a number of surprises as he signed bills by some of the most liberal lawmakers while routinely ignoring the Legislature’s far more conservative Republican caucus.

“He might have done a little bit of a swivel, but that is what an open-minded governor is supposed to do,” said Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco). Schwarzenegger signed many of her bills.

Schwarzenegger approved six of the 10 measures identified by Sierra Club California as most important to the environment. Those included banning experimental pesticides in schools and making California the first state to require cosmetics manufacturers to identify potentially carcinogenic ingredients. The chemical and cosmetics industries had strongly opposed the latter measure.


He rebuffed the movie and software industries by outlawing violent video games from being sold to minors.

Even as he vetoed what would have been the nation’s first gay marriage law enacted without a court order, Schwarzenegger approved legislation protecting gays from housing and employment discrimination and making it easier for homosexual partners to transfer property and retirement benefits to each other.

Yet unions, liberal groups and Democratic leaders were not assuaged, saying the governor’s smaller gestures did not make up for his larger snubs.

Healthcare advocates had made extending insurance coverage to all children their top priority, but Schwarzenegger rejected the measure as too expensive. Gay rights advocates had pinned their hopes on the marriage bill.

Schwarzenegger approved half of the measures sponsored by the California Nurses Assn., which has not only hounded the governor at his public appearances all year but successfully sued him. But the union said the vetoes of two measures -- one of which would have protected hospital workers from injury while lifting patients -- were more significant than his approval of two uncontested proposals to bolster nursing training.

“The corporations have a little wish list, and they’re gradually checking off the items they requested of him,” said Deborah Burgher, president of the nurses union.


It remains to be seen whether he will regain any goodwill among Latinos by approving an official state apology to Mexicans who were illegally deported or coerced into leaving the United States under a repatriation program in the 1930s. Schwarzenegger also embraced limits on lead in candy, a particular problem with the kinds of sweets brought into the country from Mexico.

Neither topic has attracted much attention amid Schwarzenegger’s public endorsement of the Minuteman border group and his veto of legislation allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses -- the third time he has squashed that proposal in as many years.

In his veto messages, the governor made no secret of his frustration with the Legislature, rebuffing a number of proposals lawmakers had adopted in lieu of his own alternatives. His election agenda aims to strip legislators of much of their power to determine state spending and to draw political boundaries that favor their easy reelection. The governor hopes that latter change will make races more competitive and give moderates from both parties a better chance of winning.

Even on those rare occasions when Democrats and Republicans in the highly polarized Legislature agreed on a bill, Schwarzenegger didn’t always follow suit.

He vetoed one proposal that had the support of 113 out of 119 lawmakers. It would have allowed California National Guard members, when applying for welfare, to discount income they had earned from active duty. He condemned a unanimously approved measure that would have created a board to study how to deal with released sex offenders, calling it “a recipe to create more red tape, not public safety.”

Another sign of his frustration with the Legislature was his increasingly aggressive posture as a defender of the initiative process and the results of past ballot measures.


On a bipartisan basis, the Legislature had moved to require greater oversight of California’s new $3-billion stem cell research institute, created through last year’s Proposition 71. Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure, saying that “we must respect the will of the people to prohibit amendments to the proposition until 2008,” even though the Legislature’s lawyers had reached the opposite conclusion.

He also rejected legislation that would have increased fines against employers who pay women less than men for the same work, saying it would encourage “the same ‘shakedown’ lawsuits that the citizens of California voted to curb last year by passing Proposition 64.”

Similarly, he based his gay marriage veto on an initiative passed five years ago that supporters say outlawed California from recognizing such unions.

Conversely, Schwarzenegger showed that he is content with the initiative process -- though it, like the legislative process, has been attacked by good-government groups as too easily manipulated by special interests.

Schwarzenegger rejected two measures that would have required those who gather signatures for initiatives to disclose whether they are volunteers or are being paid and the names of the five largest donors to their campaigns.

“When special interests dominate Sacramento, the only recourse the people of California have is the initiative, the referendum and the recall,” he wrote in one veto. “This bill attacks the initiative process and makes it more difficult for the people of California to gather signatures and qualify measures for the ballot.”


With the legislative portion of the year over and the special election just ahead, Schwarzenegger and his foes will now carry on with their disputes on the political terrain the governor favors the most.

Times staff writer Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.