Results Unsettle Gov.’s Supporters

Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — On a day of fierce recriminations, Republican allies and friends of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared shaken Wednesday by the collapse of his agenda in this week’s special election, saying he needs to recapture the confidence of voters by jettisoning some of his political advisors.

Among those distressed by the direction of the governor’s administration is First Lady Maria Shriver, who is interviewing potential candidates for senior staff jobs in the governor’s office, according to people familiar with the matter.

Special election —An article in Thursday’s Section A about the special election said the law firm Nielsen, Merksamer, which helped vet some of the initiatives on Tuesday’s ballot, was paid nearly $1.1 million by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign. The fees paid to the firm also covered litigation work.

As rumors swirled, names surfaced of people who might be asked to join Schwarzenegger in high-level jobs. They included Democrats; one was Susan Kennedy, a California Public Utilities Commission member who had been a top aide to former Gov. Gray Davis. She declined to comment.

The suggestions of turmoil ahead came as Schwarzenegger’s opponents, savoring their victory, appeared ambivalent about the best way to approach the weakened governor.


Schwarzenegger stumbled badly in his attempt to make 2005 his “year of reform” when all four measures he championed were defeated Tuesday.

Voters rejected his bids to acquire new powers to restrain state spending and change school funding guarantees, to bar labor unions from spending political cash without the approval of members, to strip lawmakers of the power to draw their own district lines and to make it tougher for teachers to obtain tenure.

The four other statewide initiatives on the special election ballot were also defeated.

Schwarzenegger conferred privately with close associates the day after his debacle, plotting his next steps with Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas). Dreier said the two did not talk explicitly about a housecleaning. But he added: “Obviously, when you’re looking ahead and moving ahead, things can happen. But I don’t think there’s a final decision made on any changes.”

Within Schwarzenegger’s wide circle, bitterness over the defeat was palpable. One business advocate said that, over the last two days, donors and other Schwarzenegger supporters have discussed recapturing the popularity the governor once enjoyed. “He’s got all this talent and cachet, but he … has to make some changes to be effective,” the person said.

People close to the administration said they anticipated the departure of some top aides and members of the governor’s expensive team of outside political consultants after his State of the State speech in January.

An aide to Shriver, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It’s premature to say at this point in time what the next step might be for” senior members of the governor’s staff. “You just have to stay tuned.” Of Shriver’s influence on such moves, the aide said: “It’s naive to think that Maria doesn’t talk to Arnold in the privacy of their home.”


Shriver recently hired a veteran of the Davis era as her chief of staff: Daniel Zingale.

Schwarzenegger made no public comments Wednesday. But his communications director, Rob Stutzman, said the governor interpreted his defeat not so much as a rejection of the ideas he advanced as voter distaste for his bypassing of the Legislature to push an agenda by ballot.

“We tried to take a huge leap forward in reforming this state by putting these measures before the voters in a special election,” Stutzman said. “And now we’ll pursue with redoubled effort the more conventional way of doing that, which is here in the Capitol, and that will be at a slower pace than he would like. So that’s the lesson he has learned, but I don’t think he characterizes it as a mistake.”

Though gleeful after their rout of Schwarzenegger, labor leaders and Democrats had not settled Wednesday on a united stance toward the governor as his reelection campaign nears.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) said lawmakers should focus on reaching accommodations with the governor. But Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) and many union leaders suggested that Schwarzenegger apologize for calling the election, which Nuñez characterized as a waste of time and resources.

Stutzman said the governor would make no apology.

The public employee unions that helped defeat the governor’s initiatives also appeared split on how adversarial they should be. Some union leaders said they wanted Schwarzenegger to try to win their trust back and build better relationships with them — even as others seemed ready to work against him in next year’s election.

“We’ve lost trust in him,” Lou Paulson, president of the California Professional Firefighters, said at a news conference. “We’re very receptive to get together with him, but clearly he has to make a sincere and thoughtful move.”

Others said Schwarzenegger had to change his entire approach. “He lost last night, and he lost big,” said Gale Kaufman, one of the union’s consultants. “He has to figure out how to govern this state. The Legislature knows what its job is. He has to figure out what his job is.”

Union leaders all but insisted that Schwarzenegger repay $2 billion to public education and stop fighting a law that puts more nurses in hospitals.

Deborah Burger, president of the California Nurses Assn., said her group would be pushing for a universal healthcare program and for a shift in the state’s tax burden toward corporations — two ideas that Schwarzenegger and his business allies have shown no interest in.

They also said the disparate public employee unions, which represent teachers, firefighters, prison guards, nurses and state workers, would strive to press a common agenda in the next year.

Mike Jimenez, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., said that Barbara Kerr, head of the California Teachers Assn., had toured a prison with him recently. He said he planned to reciprocate with a visit to a school.

The unions said they had yet to decide what their strategy would be in the 2006 elections, when many will be inclined to back the Democratic challenger. Jimenez intimated as much on election night when he declared that the post-election period was “Round 2” in the union’s combat with the governor.

Union leaders said they thought the election results showed that they, not Schwarzenegger — who has labeled himself “the people’s governor” since his election two years ago — are the ones in tune with the electorate.

“We believe we have a wonderful handle of what’s important to Californians,” Paulson said.

Schwarzenegger supporters, meanwhile, sharply criticized the large bureaucracy that has grown around him. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the governor’s office.

Some of the blame was directed at Michael Murphy, one of the main architects of the governor’s political agenda and the primary strategist of his 2003 recall campaign.

A GOP consultant familiar with Schwarzenegger’s operation said the governor and his team erred in promoting the four ballot initiatives, which offended such groups as nurses, teachers and firefighters.

“Part of it was he took on too much. He took on everybody in sight,” the consultant said. “And part of it is if you’re going to do initiatives, you want a group that fits together and presents a common theme and presents a picture of Arnold that would be positive with voters. They just didn’t do that.”

Asked if Murphy would remain with the governor, Todd Harris, an official at his consulting firm, said: “We serve at the governor’s pleasure.” Harris then called The Times back to say: “The governor has asked us to continue working for him.”

Murphy’s firm, DC Navigators, will continue operating its office in Sacramento, where it also does consulting work for corporate clients.

Through the plunge in Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings, he has kept much of his core team of senior aides, led by chief of staff Patricia Clarey.

Clarey, Stutzman and other aides left the governor’s office to join the special election campaign — and are now back at their old jobs. Clarey has long been the subject of rumors that she may be leaving.

Said Stutzman: “There’s a lot of Internet rumors, a lot of speculation,” he said. “But Pat Clarey’s in the [Capitol] right now leading meetings.”

Schwarzenegger is surrounded by an unwieldy world of pollsters, consultants, public relations firms and lawyers. Some may have a financial incentive to steer him toward ballot fights.

“There’s too many people on the political team,” said a Republican strategist. “Too many people making too much money.”

The governor and his allies spent at least $23.7 million on television airtime and $1.2 million on radio spots. Postage, mailer and associated costs amounted to $2.93 million. Consultants commonly receive a percentage of such expenditures, though campaign finance reports do not disclose the payments.

The law firm Nielsen, Merksamer, which helped vet some of the initiatives, got nearly $1.1 million. The law firm Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, which defended the governor’s ballot measures in court, was paid $361,000. Schwarzenegger raised $50 million for his special election campaign.

Here is the final tally on Tuesday’s statewide propositions:

Proposition 73 (abortion restrictions): 52.6% No, 47.4% Yes.

Proposition 74 (teacher tenure): 55.1% No, 44.9% Yes.

Proposition 75 (union dues): 53.5% No, 46.5% Yes.

Proposition 76 (state spending): 62.1% No, 37.9% Yes.

Proposition 77 (redistricting): 59.5% No, 40.5% Yes.

Proposition 78 (discount prescription drug prices): 58.5% No, 41.5% Yes.

Proposition 79 (discount prescription drug prices): 61.1% No, 38.9% Yes.

Proposition 80 (electricity regulation): 65.7% No, 34.3% Yes.


Times staff writers Jenifer Warren and Dan Morain contributed to this report.



Voting shift

In the 2003 recall election, L.A. County voters were closely divided, while voters in the five other large Southland counties overwhelmingly backed recall. On Tuesday the pattern was reversed. L.A. County lopsidedly rejected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s initiatives, while voters in the five other counties were more closedly divided. Proposition 75, the union dues item, provided the clearest example.


Los Angeles County


Yes: 49%

No: 51%

Prop. 75%

Yes: 38%

No: 62%


Five other counties*


Yes: 69%

No: 31%

Prop. 75%

Yes: 57%

No: 43%

*Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura

Source: secretary of state’s office