As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was readying himself to address the featured luncheon at the GOP state convention held in mid-September in a Disneyland-area hotel, the assembled Republican troops were atwitter. Last-minute sales of conservative paraphernalia outside the doors of the ballroom where the governor would speak were brisk. T-shirts of George W. Bush in his now infamous flight suit sold alongside bumper stickers reading LIBERALISM IS A MENTAL DISORDER and GUN CONTROL IS A STEADY HAND.
When the tanned and beaming Governator finally appeared onstage, he was received like, well, a world-famous movie star–the nearly 500 guests rose to their feet and cheered loudly and repeatedly. There wasn’t much suspense in Schwarzenegger’s brief address. The day before, he’d announced he was running for re-election, a full fourteen months before next year’s vote. And he’d been making headlines for months by calling for a special election on November 8 and supporting three measures that would enhance his budget authority, extend probation for new teachers and impose a new way to redraw electoral districts.
But the governor did throw out one big newsmaker to the crowd and the attendant media. Vowing to confront the “union bosses that run the state,” he officially endorsed a fourth measure, Proposition 75, a so-called “paycheck protection” initiative that would severely curtail the ability of state public-employee unions to make large political donations. “Big government unions should not use members’ funds as a personal kitty,” he said to roaring approval. “Union bosses have too much power over members’ paychecks and too much power over our state.”
As the delegates chanted “Four more years! Four more years!” USC political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe whispered to me: “We have just moved from all-out war to Armageddon.”
Indeed, by coming out for the antilabor measure, Schwarzenegger has guaranteed that the special election will be a nationalized free-for-all. With union contributions the veritable lifeblood of the California Democratic Party, the election promises to be an astronomically expensive political food-fight, a do-or-die referendum on the governor himself. Schwarzenegger is scrambling to add another $20 million, including as much as $5 million of his own money, to the $30 million he has already collected and spent. An alliance of California labor unions has raised more than $60 million. Big Pharma is expected to spend $80 million defending one of its own favored initiatives–countering a competing initiative that would provide low-cost prescription drugs–in the special election. The cost of the voting itself has been estimated to be between $45 million and $80 million.