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THE SPECIAL ELECTION

A Voter's Verdict: 'I'd Say He Didn't Sway Me'

November 10, 2005|Megan Garvey | Times Staff Writer

Here in the middle and working-class enclaves of Long Beach, voters who helped sweep Arnold Schwarzenegger into the governorship returned to vote Tuesday -- and routed him.

To hear them speak -- Democrats who crossed party lines to vote for Schwarzenegger two years ago, independents and moderate Republicans who believed in him -- the governor faces a difficult task in winning back support.

Margaret McMahon, a longtime Democrat, voted to recall Gov. Gray Davis and to replace him with Schwarzenegger because she liked what the novice politician had to say.

"I just felt like he was going to be honest and straightforward," said the 60-year-old personal trainer. "I wanted a different perspective."

McMahon hasn't cared for the governor's swagger since.

"I think he's created a lot of anger from people," she said. "I think he means well, but he doesn't know how to talk to people."

Last month, McMahon listened to the governor make his case for Propositions 74, 75, 76 and 77 on a Fox News talk show. Schwarzenegger said he needed the victories to get the job done, a job she had voted him into office to do.

"I'd say he didn't sway me," she said.

Or many of her neighbors.

Los Angeles County was the largest single factor in Schwarzenegger's turn of fortune Tuesday night. Two years ago, Schwarzenegger won a plurality of the county's votes, even though Los Angeles is the Democratic Party's biggest bastion in California. By contrast, in Tuesday's election, overwhelming majorities countywide sank each of Schwarzenegger's proposals.

The turnaround came in precincts like this, where working families live in homes with small, neat yards, many with pickup trucks parked out front. Planes taking off from nearby Long Beach Municipal Airport create regular background noise, and many homes show evidence of recent face-lifts and fresh landscaping -- products of the region's real estate boom.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in this precinct 2 to 1. But two years ago in the recall election, Schwarzenegger outpaced Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante by more than 10%.

On Tuesday, all four of Schwarzenegger's initiatives lost by wide margins -- more than 2 to 1 in the case of Proposition 76, the governor's centerpiece plan to restrict state spending.

Disenchantment with the governor cut across party lines. Steve Chrysler, a lifelong Republican, said he voted for Schwarzenegger in the recall election. On Tuesday, standing outside his polling place in the tiny community center at Cherry Park, Chrysler, 46, said he would take that vote back if he could.

A food services worker for the Long Beach Unified School District, Chrysler said he has watched the district grapple with budget cuts that he traces to Schwarzenegger's borrowing $2 billion from the education budget. The teachers union didn't fight that move because the governor promised to return the money. He has not.

"They didn't cut the white-collar workers," Chrysler said. "When I see my friends start losing their jobs, that's tough, and you bet it makes me angry."

As for the propositions Schwarzenegger backed, Chrysler voted no on all.

The shift in support for Schwarzenegger has been swift. Paul Ichino, a registered Democrat, said he voted for Schwarzenegger because of his campaign promises to be independent of special interests and fight for the little guy.

"I'd like to give him a chance," said Ichino, who at 82 still teaches six hours a week at El Camino College.

But so far, he said, the governor has done little to earn his continued support.

"I think he's been ineffective because he hasn't been able to do what he said he would do," Ichino said.

"I'm not sure it's his fault," Ichino added. But still, he was unwilling to give the governor what he wanted: yes votes on all four propositions.

"I voted for Proposition 77, the one on redistricting, because I think that is a good idea," said Ichino, "but I make up my own mind, always."

Not all voters have turned against the governor. Case Van Puten, 74, said he stood by his vote for Schwarzenegger in the recall and believed it was unfair to judge the governor -- yet.

"Sure he has made mistakes, but he has quite an opposition," said Van Puten, a retired general contractor who calls himself a conservative Democrat. "You can't always do what you want right away."

"He deserves the chance to do what he said he'd do," Van Puten said as he worked the polls in a working-class neighborhood of Long Beach that surrounds Ramona Park.

Voters there expressed some of the same sentiments as their neighbors near Cherry Park -- a few miles south and west. In the 2003 recall election, this precinct turned out to vote for Schwarzenegger even more strongly than the area near Cherry Park, despite having nearly twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

But on Tuesday, Walter Krichesky, a mechanic for the Fountain Valley School District who said he was not registered in any party, was sheepish about his prior vote for Schwarzenegger.

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