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As Popularity Ebbs, Governor Reaches Out

Schwarzenegger admits mistakes and offers to work with lawmakers after a poll shows 58% of Californians disapprove of his job performance.

June 22, 2005|Robert Salladay and Evan Halper | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — A chastened Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger extended a conciliatory hand Tuesday to California lawmakers, as a new opinion poll showed that voters dislike the governor nearly as much as the highly unpopular Legislature.

At a Capitol news conference the governor called to spur negotiations on the overdue state budget, Schwarzenegger acknowledged that the public was upset by the bickering between him and his Democratic opponents over a policy agenda he unveiled in January.

"All of us in this building can share blame -- all of us, including myself," Schwarzenegger said. "People make mistakes sometimes, and I think we learned there was a very clear message that we must work together. I am looking forward to that. The people ... feel good when things work well."

A Field poll released this week showed that 58% of all Californians disapprove of Schwarzenegger's job performance and 31% approve -- about the same point that former Gov. Gray Davis had reached after three years in office. Schwarzenegger came into office 18 months ago with soaring public approval ratings, after unseating a governor for only the second time in U.S. history.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 23, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Governor's performance -- An article in Wednesday's Section A about the ebbing popularity of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he took office after unseating a governor for only the second time in U.S. history. It should have said he took office after the recall of a governor for only the second time in U.S. history.

Among registered voters, 53% disapproved of Schwarzenegger's job performance. The Democrat-dominated Legislature didn't fare well, either: The poll showed that 57% of registered voters disliked its performance, and 24% approved.

Legislative leaders, who last week dropped many of their objections to Schwarzenegger's proposed state budget, appeared willing Tuesday to compromise further to ease political tensions that have led to virtual gridlock in Sacramento.

"If there is one thing we all need to do, it is humble ourselves," Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) said at a news conference that followed Schwarzenegger's. "All of us. It is not good for us. It is not good for the governor. We all need to take a step back."

Republican lawmakers and Schwarzenegger remain opposed to the Democrats' version of the budget, because they believe that it commits the state to programs it cannot afford. Schwarzenegger is asking Democrats to trim about $1 billion from their $116.6-billion budget.

Schwarzenegger and the Legislature have been divided over a host of other issues as well. In particular, Democrats and the public employee unions that contribute heavily to their campaigns are upset about several initiatives on the Nov. 8 special election ballot that would significantly diminish their powers.

Three initiatives placed on the ballot by Schwarzenegger's supporters would eliminate the power of lawmakers to draw their own districts, make it harder for public school teachers to get tenure and impose a new government spending cap.

On Tuesday, the seeds of compromise seemed to be emerging. Senate leader Don Perata (D-Oakland), at his news conference, outlined the Democrats' ideas for compromise on those issues, the state budget impasse -- and a few new issues.

A wide range of subjects are being discussed in a possible "mega-deal" that could modify the governor's teacher tenure proposal, change lawmakers' term limits, alter how schools are funded and delay the governor's redistricting proposal until the next decade.

The Legislature and Schwarzenegger could put such compromises on the November ballot in the form of propositions. Those propositions would sit side-by-side with the initiatives now on the November ballot. Voters would then be asked to approve the new propositions and ignore the original ones.

Democrats are eager to change the system of term limits in California. Lawmakers and administration officials have discussed a compromise that would include changing term limits so that legislators could serve 12 or 14 years in one house. Under the current system, they are limited to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.

"There is a big interest, obviously, in this building," Perata said. "There are members who would love to see a complete revision of the way in which we approach our job as legislators."

The most nettlesome issue appears to be the push by Schwarzenegger and Republicans to place new spending restraints in the state Constitution.

Schwarzenegger's supporters have put those controls on the ballot in the form of the Live Within Our Means Act, which would restrict how much the state budget can increase each year, regardless of revenues.

Democrats say the measure is written in a way that will devastate schools and other government programs. Perata said the proposal dismantles spending obligations to schools that were approved by voters 17 years ago through Proposition 98, and would "knock $4 billion out of public education. That doesn't reform Prop. 98, it demolishes it," he said.

Nunez, however, said Democrats could compromise on some elements of the spending restraints; he did not supply details. But he warned that they would envision a measure drastically different from what the governor has put on the table. "You can't turn a blue state into a red state," he said.

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