READING THE RESULTS THROUGH DIFFERENT GLASSES
About 300 college students, largely from Southern California, were at the state Capitol on Monday where they heard a variety of presentations on politics and public policy, including a session of post-election analyses from a panel assembled by Moorpark College Political Science Professor Jack Miller. As with most of these things, perceptions of what happened on the field last Tuesday depended in large part on where you were perched to watch from the stands.
Joel Fox, the former Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association president who served as a key policy adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign last year, saw the overwhelming passage of Proposition 57 as a huge victory for the governor, one that will boost his power over legislators, who must now quake at the prospect of his going over their heads by taking issues to the ballot. It should be noted that Fox is the lead proponent of a workers' compensation reform initiative that Schwarzenegger has said he will try to sell to voters next fall if he cannot reach a legislative solution very quickly with the Democratic-controlled Legislature. The key question now, Fox said, is "whether the Legislature will seize the moment to accomplish some things and keep them off the ballot."
Darry Sragow, chief political consultant to the Assembly Democratic Caucus, had a very different take. "Proposition 57 won," he said, "because Democrats supported it." He noted that Democratic Controller Steve Westly was co-chairman of the committee to pass the ballot measure, that the Democratic Party endorsed it and that Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein was recruited to do television commercials on behalf of the measure in the campaign's final days after polls showed that support remained weak in Feinstein's home turf in the San Francisco Bay Area.
All in all, there was a good deal of agreement that what voters want is for the governor and their lawmakers to work together on a bipartisan basis to solve problems. However, one panelist — yours truly — said that was a lot of bunk, at least as far as primary election voters are concerned.
Voters in closed-party primaries, I noted, are by and large intensely partisan voters. By definition, they don't like bipartisanship. One example: In the 37th Assembly District Republican primary, the two candidates who opposed Schwarzenegger's Proposition 57 received more than 65 percent of the vote. The one major candidate who supported the measure, Jeff Gorell, lost. In a number of party primaries in legislative districts around the state, the candidates who promoted themselves as dogmatic, partisan warriors defeated opponents who portrayed themselves as bipartisan problem solvers. The only solution in sight that might connect the overwhelming consensus of centrist voters with the political process that selects who will represent them is for an initiative to reinstate an open primary in California to qualify for the November ballot and for voters to then pass it.
The best comment from the panel came from Loyola Maramount Political Science Professor Fernando Guerra, one of the state's most respected analysts of Latino politics. Guerra noted that he had been invited to sit on another panel even though he had predicted that the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis would never qualify for the ballot, that Schwarzenegger would not run, and that if he did he would lose. "I keep being wrong, but people are still asking me for my opinion," he said.
One noteworthy observation from Guerra: The narrow success of Proposition 55, the $12.3 billion school bond on last week's ballot, was entirely the result of its support among minority voters who have the greatest stake in the public school system. "Had only whites voted, it would have lost," Guerra said. "Latino voters were much more optimistic about the future."