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Voters just say no

November 09, 2005

SPECIAL ELECTIONS ARE no longer so special for the governor who was dispatched to Sacramento two years ago to fix state government in an extraordinary recall election.

On Tuesday, the governor's two most important proposals -- Propositions 76 and 77, constitutional amendments intended to bolster the governor's power to address the state's financial crises and to take the power of drawing voting districts away from the Legislature -- lost by wide margins.

That's good news and bad news. The state does need to become more adept at balancing its books, but Proposition 76 would have gone too far in altering the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature. Proposition 77, on the other hand, was a worthy attempt to stop incumbent-protecting gerrymandering, and its failure should be mourned.

Compounding the sense of an electorate wary of the entire process, and of the deluge of ads that a quarter-billion dollars (a record) bought, voters resoundingly rejected both propositions dealing with prescription drugs, along with a measure about energy regulation. Proposition 73, which ill-advisedly requires parental notification for an abortion for a minor, also seemed headed for defeat. The vote tally on Proposition 75, which would require public employee unions to seek permission from members before dues can be spent on political activities, was too close to call as we write this, suggesting that the governor's message that those unions wield too much power in Sacramento still had some resonance.

But no amount of political spin can alter the perception that the governor, who a year ago seemed invincible, has suffered a staggering defeat. The logical message of this election for him is that voters want him to get back to the business of governing. But, of course, the trouble with holding this special election in the first place is that it will soon be followed by, well, the ordinary election season, depriving the governor and the Democratic leaders in Sacramento of time to catch their breaths or to pretend to hunker down to do some actual governing.

Democrats are likely to see Arnold Schwarzenegger, wounded by the enmity of firefighters, teachers and police who opposed his anti-union agenda, as vulnerable in a 2006 reelection fight. They may simply refuse to sit down and compromise, assuming they can win back the governorship.

That's a shame. Voters really do want better schools, a balanced state budget, safe communities and better streets and highways. But they are really tired of being asked to pass all the laws themselves.

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