Political Slant?

By Joetta L. Sack — April 12, 2005 1 min read

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger got what he wanted earlier this month from the state attorney general—sort of.

On April 1, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer approved a ballot proposal backed by the Republican governor that would change the state’s budgeting process.

If the governor and his supporters get enough signatures in the next few weeks—as expected—the measure will likely be part of a statewide special election in the fall.

But the summary of the proposal wasn’t quite worded the way proponents had planned.

Instead, the summary, which is supposed to explain the plan to voters, gives top billing to ballot language that would lead to changes in Proposition 98, a state constitutional guarantee concerning education funding—wording that could significantly hurt its chances of passage.

Mr. Lockyer’s summary discusses school funding before the balanced-budget provisions that the governor and proponents of the measure have been stressing.

A surprise? Not so, suggest observers and pundits in California. The elected attorney general is also one of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s chief political opponents and a likely Democratic candidate for the 2006 governor’s race. His office did not return calls for comment.

“We think this might as well have been written on ‘Bill Lockyer for Governor’ letterhead,” said a staff member for Citizens to Save California, the grassroots group that is helping the governor collect signatures and campaign for the proposed changes.

Gov. Schwarzenegger, hoping to gain a policymaking edge over the Democratic-controlled legislature, wants to turn to voters with the budget plan and other ballot initiatives.

The strategy is politically risky for the governor—even without the new ballot summary—and education groups have already pledged vast resources to fight the measures. (“Schwarzenegger Takes School Plans to Voters,” March 16, 2005.)

Dan Walters, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee, theorized in a recent column that Gov. Schwarzenegger had lost ground on the issues because he and his allies had waited months to finalize language for the spending plan and file their ballot initiatives.

With no time left to file a court petition, Gov. Schwarzenegger has no recourse to change the summary language for a November election, he points out.

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