Pushing to diminish organized labor’s clout in Sacramento, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Saturday threw his support behind a November ballot measure that would bar public-employee unions from spending member dues on political campaigns without prior consent.
His endorsement of Proposition 75 puts Schwarzenegger at the forefront of a longtime cause of the Republican Party and its business allies. In an effort to dry up a prime source of campaign money for Democrats, they have backed similar measures across the nation. Underscoring its commitment, the state Republican Party has put $250,000 into the “Yes on 75" campaign.
Schwarzenegger’s personal stake in the matter has grown this year as California unions mounted a punishing television ad assault against him. After months of hinting that he would back the measure, Schwarzenegger finally endorsed it in a lunch speech to more than 500 supporters at the state Republican convention in Anaheim.
Public workers, Schwarzenegger said, “should not be forced to contribute to causes, candidates and controversial issues that they don’t believe in.”
“Big government union leaders should not use their members’ money as a personal kitty to fund political campaigns and political advertising,” he said between rounds of cheers that filled the hotel ballroom.
Dismissing the ads against him as rife with “misinformation,” the Republican governor struck a defiant tone as he cast himself as an outsider threatening “union bosses” long accustomed to buying favors from California politicians.
“After I’d been in Sacramento for a while, the system basically came to me and said, ‘You’re the new governor, here’s how it works in Sacramento: Just give us the money, don’t talk about quality, don’t rock the boat -- or else.’ Well, let me tell you something: The attacks that you see on television are the ‘or else.’ And I will not be deterred.”
The Republican rank and file leaped to their feet, applauded and called out: “Ar-nold! Ar-nold! Ar-nold!”
Schwarzenegger now has attached his name to four consecutive proposals on the Nov. 8 ballot, simplifying the marketing of his agenda for the special election. He led the crowd in chanting: “Yes on 74, 75, 76, 77.”
Recent polls found that voters favored Proposition 75, but rejected the three others. Proposition 74 would extend the probation period for newly hired teachers from two years to five years. Proposition 76 would restrict state spending growth, adjust minimum requirements for school spending and give the governor new powers to cut spending. Proposition 77 would strip state lawmakers of their power to draw congressional and legislative district maps.
Labor leaders denounced Schwarzenegger’s addition of Proposition 75 to his ballot package. Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters and a chief critic of Schwarzenegger since the 2003 recall campaign, said that “it has never been a secret the governor is heavily involved in this sneaky initiative.”
“It’s about time he came out of the backroom and told Californians the truth about it,” Paulson said.
Roger Salazar, a Democratic Party consultant who stopped by the GOP gathering, said Schwarzenegger’s stand on the measure “gives Californians a better idea of what his real goals are.”
“The goal all along has been to weaken the impact workers have on the political process,” Salazar said.
The weekend gathering of Republicans gave Schwarzenegger a chance to stoke enthusiasm among conservatives, his strongest bloc of supporters, after a steep drop in his popularity this year among Democrats and independents.
Party conventions tend to attract true believers and this one was no exception. A hallway vendor, appealing to the anti-abortion faction, sold T-shirts with photos of fetuses. Another peddled bumper stickers with such slogans as “Gun Control is a Steady Hand” and “Stop Global Whining.”
In another step to spike support among GOP loyalists -- and enhance campaign fundraising -- Schwarzenegger announced Friday that he would run next year for reelection. A downside of that move -- it draws new attention to his Democratic rivals -- was apparent Saturday as gubernatorial contender Phil Angelides, the state treasurer, basked in the attention of reporters at his news conference in a hotel across the street from the convention.
He said Schwarzenegger’s endorsement of Proposition 75 enabled the governor “to hurl more cheap insults and red-meat rhetoric into the cages of partisan politicking.”
If Schwarzenegger wanted to be fair, Angelides said, he would require every shareholder to sign permission forms before a corporation makes a political donation, as proposed in a retaliatory ballot measure that unions are trying to qualify for a statewide vote next year. He called Schwarzenegger’s move part of a wider plan by the Bush White House to cripple unions that traditionally have backed Democratic candidates.
“This is the governor’s payback,” Angelides said, “to the nurses who have spoken out, to the teachers who have spoken out about more education funding, to the firefighters and police officers who wanted to protect retirement benefits for widows and orphans.”
Sensitive to such charges, which echo the union TV ads, Schwarzenegger’s political team deployed teachers this week to praise him to the media. A former U.S. teacher of the year introduced Schwarzenegger at his San Diego reelection announcement Friday. At the GOP convention, Schwarzenegger allies dispatched Sandra Crandall, a teacher at Moiola Elementary School in Fountain Valley, to praise Proposition 75 in the ballroom where the governor endorsed the measure. She called it “an employee rights issue.”
“This is a freedom-of-choice issue,” she said. “The issue is so simple, my kindergarten children understand it. Ask permission. Ask permission on how to use my hard-earned money.”
Crandall, a Republican, said she opted out of paying dues for political purposes in 1994 -- as allowed by law -- but was shunned by colleagues. Now, she said, she gets a refund from the teachers union, but only after what she described as a bureaucratic hassle.
In 1998, former Gov. Pete Wilson, another Republican, and his business allies tried to pass a similar measure, Proposition 226, which would have applied to all unions in California. After a furious campaign by labor, voters rejected it.
But Proposition 75 applies only to unions for public workers, allowing Schwarzenegger and his allies to argue that the campaign donations it might curtail are meant to sweeten the pay of government employees -- and spur higher taxes to cover the cost.
“It is unfair to treat those public employees much better than they treat you, and then you have to pay the taxes and foot the bill,” Schwarzenegger told invited guests at a campaign forum last week in Riverside.
In promoting his fall agenda, Schwarzenegger has used his stand against higher taxes to try to recapture some of the populist appeal that he built two years ago during the recall campaign.
“We rescinded the car tax,” he reminded the cheering crowd in Anaheim, “and we sent the money back to the people.”