There is no way to generously characterize the outcome of the Special
Election for the Governor. But there are important lessons to be learned
Calling the Special Election was a mistake. It drove hundreds of thousands
of voters to simply vote no across the board–they were that annoyed at the
expense of the election, or so the Democrats would have you believe. And
they are largely right. Sacramento insiders will tell you there was a deal
on the table for most of the Governor’s reform agenda. The Democrats had
agreed to extend teacher tenure to five years, implement some version of the
‘live within our means’ measure and even re-districting was in the plans.
Prop. 75’s paycheck protection was not on the table.
With all that negotiated, why did the Governor pull the trigger? He went
for broke. Prop. 75 would have been Revolution and he thought he could win
the lot. His experience with ‘fixing’ workers compensation insurance
problem through negotiation probably left a bad taste in his mouth since not
much was solved–but it was an accomplishment in the eyes of the voters.
Anyone who learns from their mistakes will look back and this election and
realize a negotiated compromise is better than losing it all. Or is it?
For months leading up to the election, I had warned that the Governor’s
advisors made a strategic error in not defending Schwarzenegger name,
character and dedication to our state’s future. The Governor’s approval
rating, which was dangerously low on Election Day, was a major reason he
lost his reform agenda.
By Election Day the voters knew Schwarzenegger as a liar for not fulfilling
his promise to ‘pay-back’ the education fund, as anti-nurse and
anti-teacher. These messages came from the union halls and were to be
expected. But it was totally unnecessary for the venom from these special
interests to sting so much. In fact, had the Governor spent the several
millions he eventually contributed to the reform agenda in the months
leading up to the election on improving his image and countering the
negative ads on TV that brought his approval numbers so dangerously low, he
might have won a measure or two or more.
The old saying, “vote early and often,” is applicable to this election. The
quote, coming out of the elections of Chicago’s darker days provides a
lesson that Democrats have not forgotten. Rather they modified the tactic
and used it successfully in this election. Instead of stuffing the ballot
box with bogus votes, they used their political dollars to build credibility
early, knock the Governor and generally establish a foot-hold–a message
conduit with the voters.
This early communication on matters of public policy, not specific to an
election ballot measures gave the special interest unions a huge advantage.
We see this in local races more and more. A well-funded candidate gets out
in front on the popular side of an issue that is before the community, such
as fighting a tax increase or roadway expansion or development project or a
jail. This candidate through earned media, direct mail and even
door-to-door contact will establish him or herself as the leader of the
Often times a charade, this scheme works because the voters see the
candidate on the public policy level rather than in the political sense.
Later, even months later, when an election is at hand, the candidate who was
early to reach out to the voters, is successful because he or she
established that credibility–that rapport.
This is what the unions did. Only they were masterful at it. They not only
established the credibility on a public policy level, but they also
succeeded in demonizing the Governor and bringing down his approval rating
with their message–never asking for a voter until much later in the game.
If the Governor erred in not going to up on TV early enough as I believe,
the current situation begs the question. What next? I say, back to TV.
Governor, take your message to the people the only way you can in this vast
Since Schwarzenegger is going to run for re-election, he needs to start now,
build back his positives through public policy initiatives, not election
politics. He needs to spend dollars to communicate directly with the
public. Now more than ever is the time to reach out and tell the voters
what you want to accomplish going forward Mr. Governor. Reach out now, when
the unions are largely de-funded (for a brief period of time).
The governor’s great advantage has always been his ability to go to the
people. He lost this round, but he can get that ability back–get the
leverage he needs to negotiate.
If he fails to act, fails to seize this lull, the Governor risks being
relegated to the errant veto, because his utility is otherwise compromised
and the Democrats and union special interest will take advantage of it.