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Schwarzenegger learning from ballot defeat
California voters rejected all four of the governor's proposals on Tuesday.
LOS ANGELES -- The strong man of California politics is looking awfully weak.
California voters Tuesday rejected all four government overhaul measures that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had put on the ballot, a resounding defeat for the Republican in his bold attempt to go over lawmakers' heads and take his agenda straight to the people.
The setback comes at the same time the former action hero is gearing up for a re-election bid in 2006.
Elizabeth Garrett, an expert on California's initiative process at the University of Southern California, said Schwarzenegger had learned an important lesson about using the ballot to try to get his way instead of working directly with the Democratic-controlled legislature.
"He needs to re-establish his connection with the people and push real reform through the traditional governing process," she said. "This is the really important moment -- the pivotal moment of his political career."
"It doesn't mean that Arnold Schwarzenegger's political career is over," said Darry Sragow, a Democratic consultant who worked with Schwarzenegger last year. "But he had a mandate to reform state government, and he no longer has that mandate. It's tragic."
Schwarzenegger stayed out of sight Wednesday as voters and analysts chewed over the election results. He first public appearance after the election debacle will be a meeting today with Democratic and GOP legislative leaders in Sacramento, the first step in an effort to rehabilitate his former image as a bipartisan governor.
"There is much work to be done," Schwarzenegger told supporters Tuesday night, vowing to collaborate with lawmakers in the months ahead. "We've got to rebuild our infrastructure. We need more schools. We need more firefighters, more teachers. ... Californians are sick and tired of all the fighting and all those negative TV ads."
Schwarzenegger had asked voters to approve a state spending cap and give him authority to make midyear budget cuts, change the way legislative districts are drawn, restrict the money unions could raise for political campaigns and make teachers work longer to gain tenure.
Voters appeared puzzled by Schwarzenegger's use of a special election to get his way, and were angry at its price tag, estimated to be at least $50 million.
California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said that while Democrats are willing to work with Schwarzenegger, the two sides have not reached the "kumbaya stage" quite yet.
So far, two Democrats -- state Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly -- have announced plans to challenge Schwarzenegger next year. Both campaigned against Schwarzenegger's initiatives but have failed to excite the voters.
Despite Schwarzenegger's weakened state, analysts say he enters the race with some important advantages.
"His base is still united and firmly behind him," said Bill Whalen, a Republican consultant and scholar at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "And if you talk to smart Democrats, most will tell you they would love nothing more than to see another candidate in the primary who would excite the party."
Actor Warren Beatty and director Rob Reiner lobbied against Schwarzenegger's ballot measures in recent weeks, raising hopes among Democrats that one or the other would challenge Schwarzenegger for governor next year. But Whalen said he does not believe either man could beat the celebrity governor.
"The election was a referendum against Schwarzenegger and a referendum against the special election," he said. "But I don't see the public chanting, 'We want Warren."'