The exurbs aren't all Republican.

By

San Ramon, California

If California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had support anywhere
for his initiatives, it would have been in a place like this one. A
town of 50,000 on the edge of suburban Contra Costa County, San
Ramon is represented in Congress by Republican Richard Pombo and is
home to the Chevron Corporation. But, as Schwarzenegger's black van
approached the Hop Yard American Ale House, where he was scheduled
to appear on the last day of the campaign, hundreds of
demonstrators thronged the entrance shouting, "Hey Hey, Ho Ho,
Schwarzenegger's got to go!" They easily drowned out the small
clutch of supporters holding signs reading go for it arnold.Schwarzenegger entered through the back door of the restaurant and
went from table to table promising to "make the broken system
whole" and to achieve "reform" and "change." "I say to the people,
`Give change a chance,'" he declared to a group of diners, as if he
were speaking to an audience of thousands. He was going through the
motions--an aging actor in summer stock playing the final night of
State Fair. But the stage that day in San Ramon, and in California
the next day, belonged to the governor's boisterous opponents, as
all four of the initiatives he had championed went down in defeat.

Of course, California has not been particularly hospitable to its
governors. Schwarzenegger's Democratic predecessor, Gray Davis, was
recalled after five years in office, and his Republican
predecessor, Pete Wilson, was deeply unpopular during his second
term (see "Failed State," September 5). But Schwarzenegger has hit
bottom far more quickly than either Davis or Wilson. His fall was
due not merely to the state's intractable fiscal problems, but also
to gross political miscalculation. Schwarzenegger, elected as a
nonpartisan centrist, moved rightward this year. And, when he
encountered resistance to his Republican pro-business agenda, he
tried to use conservative wedge issues to stir up support in places
like San Ramon. This miscalculation about exurban voters, which was
also committed in Virginia by Republican gubernatorial contender
Jerry Kilgore, may have national implications for the GOP.

California is often pictured as the ultimate blue state, but that's
not quite accurate. The fastest-growing group of California voters
is independents. These voters, who now make up 19 percent of the
electorate, can turn an election either way. They are generally
centrists who support abortion rights and environmental protection.
They want more money spent on education but are leery of big
government programs or tax increases. They want corporations to
come to the state, but don't want them to dominate the government.

Wilson and Davis initially ran as centrists and enjoyed great
support among this constituency. So did Schwarzenegger, and, in his
first year, he carefully cultivated an image as a nonpartisan
friend of labor and business. But, after last November's election,
Schwarzenegger careened sharply to the right as he reneged on a
commitment made during Davis's administration to reduce nurse-
patient ratios in hospitals. When the California Nurses Association
fought back, Schwarzenegger boasted about "kicking their butts."
Then, he broke a promise he made to the California Teachers
Association to restore the funding levels that the union had agreed
to reduce in 2004, which brought teachers into the fray. Finally,
Schwarzenegger introduced a pensionreform plan for public workers,
which, according to the state attorney general, would have denied
death benefits to the widows of firefighters and police.

Faced with angry protesters, Schwarzenegger decided to take on all
the groups at once. Tom Campbell, who took leave as state finance
director to work on the initiative campaign, suggests that
Schwarzenegger reacted emotionally to the political attacks from
the nurses, teachers, and firefighters. "When one side goes for
war," Campbell explains, "the other side either girds for war or
tries to reach a compromise."

Schwarzenegger decided to go to war. He made labor unions the enemy
and cast his lot with Sacramento's business lobbies. He championed
their proposals for spending limits and attacked "union bosses." He
even took aim at Mexican immigrants, comparing the Minutemen
vigilantes to private security guards he had hired to watch his
kids. And, when the Democrat-controlled legislature didn't comply
with his wishes, he turned to initiatives.

Schwarzenegger's use of the initiative process this year was flawed.
Says Tony Quinn, who worked for Republicans in the state assembly
and now edits the California Target Book, an almanac of California
politics: "When you are doing initiative politics, you lay out an
idea, and you discuss it, and you have academics discuss it. Then
you try the legislature. The initiative is the last resort.
Schwarzenegger's people made it the first resort. The political
operation took control of the policy, and they believe Arnold could
sell anything."

In addition, the initiatives themselves were poorly drafted, mostly
by political partisans. The main initiative, Proposition 76, which
was written in incomprehensible business-speak by the California
Chamber of Commerce and the California Business Roundtable, would
have allowed the governor to cut funding for schools if the budget
was in the red. Schwarzenegger's redistricting plan, Proposition
77, which was drafted by the same Republican activist who led
Davis's recall, would have required an immediate fix before the next
census. And Proposition 74, which made it more difficult for
teachers to obtain tenure, seemed to presume that the ills of
California's underfunded educational system were due entirely to
teachers undeservedly gaining tenure.

Schwarzenegger's campaign for the initiatives moved him even further
into the hands of business lobbies and the Republican right. To
raise money for the campaign--which would prove to be the most
costly in California history-- Schwarzenegger mortgaged his
legislative agenda to big contributors. For instance,
Schwarzenegger got a check for

$250,000 from Christy Walton, the widow of Wal-Mart heir John
Walton, on the same day he vetoed a bill that would have had the
state publicize names of companies whose employees have to rely on
California's Medicaid program. To please business, Schwarzenegger
endorsed Proposition 75, which required public employee unions to
get the written permission of their members to contribute to
political campaigns. This anti-union proposition was drawn up by
former John Birch Society member Lewis Uhler.

As the campaign continued to flounder, Schwarzenegger attempted to
duplicate George W. Bush's political strategy in 2004. He focused
almost entirely on rural and exurban voters, only permitted
supporters into his rallies and "town hall" meetings, and used
wedge issues to woo social conservatives. Schwarzenegger, who had
brandished his support for abortion rights two years before,
endorsed Proposition 73, which required minors to notify their
parents before seeking an abortion. The California Republican Party
hired Gary Marx, who had mobilized evangelicals for Bush, to get
these voters to support Schwarzenegger's initiatives as well as the
religious right-sponsored Proposition 73.

But, in the exurbs, opposition to abortion and union bosses didn't
translate into support for Proposition 76, Schwarzenegger's
anti-spending initiative. In traditionally Republican Riverside and
Fresno counties, the antiabortion initiative won by about 20
percent, but Proposition 76, seen as a threat to the state's
schools, lost by about 10 percent. Interestingly, the same pattern
appeared in the Virginia gubernatorial election. Republicans had
previously put great stock in fast-growing exurban areas like
Loudon County in Northern Virginia. But Loudon County, which went
for Bush in 2004, backed Democrat Tim Kaine over Kilgore by 5
percent, suggesting that voters are more interested in Kaine's
proposals for education and transportation than in Kilgore's defense
of the death penalty or promises to deport illegal immigrants.

In 2004, Republicans were able to win on an agenda of conservative
social issues paired with Bush's reputation as a field marshal in
the war on terrorism. But, these days, Bush looks like less of a
leader, and the results in California and Virginia suggest the
limits of a Republican political strategy that focuses on
right-wing issues like abortion and immigration rather than on
universal ones like education and health care. If Schwarzenegger
(not to mention the rest of his party) fails to realize that
governing from the right is no longer an option, it'll be "hasta la
vista" come next November.

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