In a sharp repudiation of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, voters rejected his most sweeping ballot proposals on Tuesday in an election that shattered his image as an agent of the popular will.
Voters turned down his proposals to curb state spending, redraw California's political map and lengthen the time it takes teachers to get tenure.
With most of the votes counted, Californians were leaning against Proposition 75, his plan to require unions for public workers to get written consent from members before spending their dues money on politics.
The Republican governor had cast the four initiatives as central to his larger vision for restoring fiscal discipline to California and reforming its notoriously dysfunctional politics. The failure of Proposition 76, his spending restraints, and Proposition 77, his election district overhaul, represented a particularly sharp snub of the governor by California voters. It also threw into question his strategy of threatening lawmakers with statewide votes to get around them when they block his favored proposals.
On a Beverly Hills stage Tuesday night next to his wife, Maria Shriver, Schwarzenegger pledged "to find common ground" with his Democratic adversaries in Sacramento.
"The people of California are sick and tired of all the fighting, and they are sick and tired of all the negative TV ads," he told supporters at the Beverly Hilton. He did not concede, saying instead that "in a couple of days the victories or the losses will be behind us."
Dogging the governor, as it has for months, was the California Nurses Assn., which organized a luau at the Trader Vic's in the same hotel. As Schwarzenegger's defeats mounted, giddy nurses formed a conga line and danced around the room, singing, "We're the mighty, mighty nurses."
At labor's election night party in Sacramento, union leaders were not in a forgiving mood, vowing revenge against the governor next year when he seeks reelection. They were particularly incensed that he had not given union members their due for what they believed to be a clean sweep of his agenda.
"He never apologized once for trashing every one of us," said Mike Jimenez, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. "And I can tell you, tomorrow we're not going to apologize for the way this election turned out. Tomorrow starts Round 2."
California Teachers Assn. President Barbara Kerr told several hundred activists in the ballroom: "This governor wasted $50 million, and he does not have the courage to apologize to all of you for the trash he talked about you. He doesn't have the courage to say he was wrong, that we're the real heroes of California."
For months, labor and its Democratic allies called Schwarzenegger's agenda an assault on nurses, firefighters, teachers and other public employees. Labor's $100-million campaign against the governor this year has battered his public image as he prepares to seek reelection in 2006.
Also on the ballot were four other initiatives. Voters were narrowly defeating Proposition 73, which would bar abortions for minors without parental notification. The state Republican Party promoted Schwarzenegger's endorsement of the measure among evangelicals and other religious conservatives in a bid to boost turnout of voters who would back the rest of his agenda.
By a wide margin, voters also rejected rival measures on prescription-drug discounts. The pharmaceutical industry spent $80 million on a campaign to defeat Proposition 79, a labor and consumer-group proposal, and pass its own alternative, Proposition 78.
Voters also turned down Proposition 80, a complex measure to revamp rules governing the electricity industry. The initiative, sponsored by consumer advocates, tried to draw on public anger from the state's 2000 energy crisis, but polls suggested that it confused voters.
Overall, the special election called by Schwarzenegger to win public validation of his agenda sparked a campaign that became the costliest in California's history. All told, the yes and no campaigns on the eight initiatives spent more than $250 million.
Schwarzenegger put in $7.2 million of his own money. That brings his total personal spending on political endeavors to $25 million since he ran for governor in the 2003 recall race.
Former Gov. Pete Wilson, a political mentor to Schwarzenegger, watched returns with the governor at the Hilton. "It took courage to do it," Wilson said of the special election. "Why run for office if you're not going to do anything with it?"
But state Senate leader Don Perata, a Democrat from Oakland, said Tuesday night that Schwarzenegger had "sowed the seeds of his own demise" by taking on the full gamut of public workers, who make up more than half of the union members in California.
"He got a lot of really bad advice," Perata said.