Prison guards to fund recall drive against governor

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who rode into power on a wave of voter angst in the first recall of a California governor, now finds himself a target for removal as his own popularity is declining.

The state’s well-financed prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., is bankrolling a recall effort against Schwarzenegger.

“This is a governor that has done absolutely nothing,” union spokesman Lance Corcoran said in an interview Monday. “We have the largest budget deficit in the history of California. We have one of the longest budget stalemates.”


Schwarzenegger and the union known as CCPOA have been at odds for years, unable to agree on a new contract for the guards. Last fall, the governor invoked a rarely used provision of state law allowing him to unilaterally impose new working conditions on the union in the absence of a deal.

Corcoran said the dispute has nothing to do with the recall effort, but the governor believes otherwise.

“I’m not going to get intimidated by those guys,” Schwarzenegger told reporters in the Capitol on Monday after a ceremony honoring California’s Olympic medalists. “The state should not spend more money than we take in, and their intimidation tactics will not make me change my mind whatsoever, because I happen to not represent the CCPOA. I represent the people of California.”

The perception that the guards’ campaign is self-serving could limit their ability to garner support, said Allan Hoffenblum, a Republican political analyst. He said they would need a broader movement like the one that destroyed former Gov. Gray Davis, the Democrat recalled on Oct. 7, 2003, amid anger over higher vehicle license fees, immigration issues and the energy crisis.

“For most people to take it seriously, they have to prove that it’s more than the prison guards upset that Arnold won’t sign a pay raise,” Hoffenblum said. In addition, he said, there is no viable replacement.

The prison guards were among the biggest political benefactors of Davis, who negotiated contracts widely perceived as favorable to the union.


Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has not accepted their contributions.

“This is a different governor sitting here,” he said defiantly Monday.

Schwarzenegger said he would negotiate with the union but would not give in to its demands for excessive salaries and changes in working conditions such as sick leave and job assignments, which he argued would hamper the state’s ability to manage the prisons.

The governor renegotiated a contract with the union a year after the recall, but the two parties have been at loggerheads since that agreement expired in July 2006.

The union has long been considered a formidable political player in Sacramento, but its effectiveness has been questioned in recent months, even by some of its own members, as it has failed to win new contract terms from the governor or state lawmakers. Union president Mike Jimenez faces a contested election later this month.

Nonetheless, the prison guards wield a potent weapon: money. They reported earlier this summer having more than $4.4 million available, funded by members’ dues, for campaign purposes.

Schwarzenegger, who was reelected easily two years ago, first ran for office on promises to put the state’s fiscal house in order. Five years into his tenure, the state faces a projected $15.2-billion budget deficit. In trying to close it, he has reneged on a core vow not to support a tax increase.

The governor’s poll numbers have been sinking. In August, 43% of likely voters approved of his performance, down from 59% almost a year earlier, according to surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California. His disapproval ratings jumped to 52%, up from 31% over that same period.


“I think people recognize that this is a guy that spent his life posing,” Corcoran said. “That’s what he did as a bodybuilder, he posed, and that’s what he’s done as governor.”

But Schwarzenegger remains more popular in California than state lawmakers, President George W. Bush, or members of Congress. Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at UC San Diego, said the union’s effort would be a long shot.

“I think it’s a way of showing their unhappiness with him,” Jacobson said. “But who knows? Crazier things have happened.”

The union has begun collecting signatures on a “notice of intention” to circulate a recall petition, according to Corcoran. But the petition has not yet been filed with the secretary of state’s office, spokeswoman Kate Folmar said.

The union would have to collect more than 1 million signatures to put the recall on the ballot, which could cost between $1 million and $3 million, according to political consultants familiar with such campaigns.

Corcoran did not specify how much the union would contribute to a recall campaign.