One lesson from the special election disaster: plain speaking is the best rule

When Gov. Schwarzenegger’s call for closing the U.S.-Mexico border to combat
illegal immigration sparked protests earlier this year, he quickly
backtracked and said he wanted to secure the border, not close it.

The governor, who emmigrated from Austria in 1968, attributed the confusion
to “a language problem.”

At first, it sounded like a lame excuse for someone who has lived in this
country for 37 years. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that
many of the seemingly inexplicable things the governor says and does can be
explained by what his spokesman Rob Stutzman has referred to as “the
second-language issue.”

So when Arnold says “we must live within our means” while he borrows
billions of dollars, it must be an honest “language problem” rather than

When he attacks “Sacramento,” Mayor Fargo shouldn’t take it personally. He
means the Legislature, not the city itself.

When he calls the public servants who teach our kids and keep us safe
“special interests” but fails to apply that tag to the corporations who
bankroll his campaigns, it must simply be a language barrier.

When he calls half-baked proposals reforms and says the special election was
needed because “we’re going right where the evil is,” something must have
been lost in translation.

And when he called his opponents “girlie men” and declared that he had been
“kicking their butts,” that was just his sense of humor.

How else can you explain the aftermath of the special election, in which the
governor said he takes full responsibility for the defeat of all four of his
ballot propositions, but generally acted as though he had won instead of
suffering a crushing defeat?

Although he said “I get the message,” his tone sounded more like “Election?
What election? There’s nothing to see here. Move along.”

His definition of responsibility apparently doesn’t include the need to
apologize or show contrition.

And the message the governor’s team has taken from the voters’ overwhelming
rejection of his agenda appears to be that they opposed the special election
itself, not the content of his proposals.

They are certainly correct that the election was unpopular, but I can’t
believe there are many voters who said things like “Prop. 76 is a great
idea, but I’m going to vote ‘no’ to protest the election. Please bring it
back next year.”

Voters rejected Proposition 74 because it would have made the state’s
shortage of qualified teachers worse, not better.

They rejected Prop. 75 because they recognized that it was an attack on
public employees rather than an attempt to protect them.

They rejected Prop. 76 because they recognized that school funding should
not be blamed for the state’s budget problems and giving the governor
expanded budget-cutting powers is not the answer.

And they rejected Prop. 77 not because they oppose non-partisan
redistricting, but because they believe it would be better to do it with an
independent commission using new census data after 2010 than by retired
judges using outdated data next spring.

Despite this, a headline last weekend declared “Defeat No Deterrent … Groups
Plan to Recycle Proposals in 2006.” The article by Harrison Sheppard
reported that “supporters of Proposition 75

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