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  Republican strongholds left Schwarzenegger in the cold, Past allies were no-show
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« on: November 13, 2005, 07:33:10 pm »

Republican strongholds left Schwarzenegger in the cold
Past allies were no-shows at polls -- or opponents

John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writer

Stockton -- Voters in some of California's most reliably Republican counties deserted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in droves Tuesday, either sitting out the special election or working actively against the governor's political agenda.

While Schwarzenegger's supporters argue that the landslide defeat was a one-time reaction to an unpopular special election, it's a result that threatens the chances of Schwarzenegger -- and other Republican candidates -- in next November's statewide elections.

It wasn't easy for Jessica Anderson, a high school administrator from Stockton, to vote against the governor's initiatives. A registered independent, she supported Schwarzenegger in the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis and is generally satisfied with the job he's done, but couldn't back him in the special election.

"I didn't feel (the initiatives) were as clear or as thorough as they should have been,'' she said as she sat outside a Starbucks in Stockton. "I'm for reform and for our governor, just not for the way these were done.''

In addition to independents like Anderson rejecting the governor's agenda, Schwarzenegger suffered from low turnout in Republican strongholds around the state.

"You want to know what our problem was?" said Todd Harris, a spokesman for the governor's campaign. "Just look at the turnout in places like Riverside and San Bernardino counties.''

While the statewide turnout was 43.2 percent as of Friday afternoon, it was only 36.2 percent in San Bernardino County and 37 percent in Riverside County. The turnout was a dismal 30.9 percent in Stanislaus County and 39.5 percent in San Joaquin County, even though both have Republican majorities.

"The Republican base was lethargic and demoralized by national events, as well as what was happening in California,'' said Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at Cal State Sacramento. "It was a tough time to energize Republican voters.''

Schwarzenegger's opponents didn't face the same problem. Measures on teacher tenure (Proposition 74), public employee unions (Proposition 75) and state budget reform (Proposition 76) directly threatened labor unions and education interests, while a plan to change the reapportionment process (Proposition 77) could have cost Democratic leaders as many as 10 seats in the Legislature.

"We really had 15,000 people out walking precincts before election day, and the Republicans didn't,'' said Gale Kaufman, the Democratic consultant who ran the anti-Schwarzenegger campaign.

That grassroots effort paid dividends Tuesday. Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties, which voted overwhelmingly to replace Davis with Schwarzenegger and then backed both of the governor's budgetary initiatives in March 2004, had a total turnout of 39.5 percent. The nine-county Bay Area, one of the most Democratic regions in the state, had more than 46 percent of its 3.3 million registered voters cast ballots.

The people who did turn out, Republicans as well as Democrats, consistently rejected Schwarzenegger's initiatives, even in most areas friendly to the governor. Only Orange County, alone in supporting all the governor's initiatives, and the small Gold Country counties of Sutter, Placer and El Dorado supported both Prop. 76 and Prop. 77.

"I felt 76 was an unadulterated grab for power,'' said Richard King, a Stockton Democrat who voted for Schwarzenegger in 2003. "There was no way I could support giving him the ability to veto spending without going to the Legislature."

The former Hollywood action hero's past support in Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties vaporized except for a lone victory in Stanislaus, which backed only Prop. 75.

"I'm not very happy with the way the governor has done things,'' said Jeremy Sinclair, a graduate student at Cal State Sacramento who voted for Schwarzenegger in 2003. "The measures certainly weren't important enough to justify the amount of money the election cost.''

Concerns about crime, high unemployment, endemic poverty and the soaring cost of living are far more important to Central Valley residents than whether it should take two years or five years before teachers become tenured, said Larry Giventer, a professor of politics and public administration at Cal State Stanislaus in Turlock.

"The governor hasn't talked to enough people in the San Joaquin Valley to hear the real concerns of the bread-and-butter people living paycheck to paycheck,'' he said. "Celebrity may attract people for a while, but policy trumps celebrity in the end.''

Schwarzenegger's supporters can't argue that the voters who did go to the polls were too liberal to back the agenda of a Republican governor. Many of the same voters who rejected his initiatives turned around and voted in favor of Prop. 73, a measure sponsored by anti-abortion groups that would have required doctors to inform a parent or guardian before performing an abortion on an unmarried woman 17 years old or younger.

In San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties, the parental consent initiative won 55 percent of the vote or better. It pulled 64 percent of the vote in Merced County.

Voters didn't vote a straight party line in the state but made a conscious decision to reject the governor's reform plan, said Kaufman, the Democratic consultant.

"People were making distinctions in how they voted,'' she said. "They may have voted 'yes' on one or two of the (eight) ballot measures, but they clearly voted 'no' on the ones important to us.''

Schwarzenegger hasn't necessarily lost all the people who voted against his package of initiatives Tuesday, but he's made it easier for them to look at the Democratic alternatives in next year's re-election campaign. The governor seems to recognize the need for changes, pledging Thursday to work more closely with the Democrat-led Legislature and agreeing Friday to end a legal battle over hospital staffing with the California Nurses Association, one of his most vocal critics.

"Just because the people here voted against Schwarzenegger doesn't mean that they're not mad at the rest of the government as well,'' said Giventer of Cal State Stanislaus. "But the governor has to show he's going to pay attention to what's important.''
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