California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will learn the fate of his so-called reform plan as voters in his state go to the polls Tuesday. The actor-politician has staked his political future on the election's outcome.
When he took power two years ago in a special recall vote that ousted the former governor, Mr. Schwarzenegger promised changes. California was deep in debt, committed to major spending, and was borrowing money to meet its obligations.
There was little cooperation between the two parties in the state capital, Sacramento. Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, promised to bypass the Democrats by going straight to the voters to make some changes. He would do that through California's system of direct democracy, with citizen-sponsored measures placed on the ballot through a petition process. The measures, once on the ballot, become state law if they pass.
The result of his effort is the special election Tuesday. As the governor toured the state in last-minute campaigning, he made a final appeal to the voters.
"The people have sent me to Sacramento to make the corrections and to really fix the broken system," said Arnold Schwarzenegger. "So I'm asking the people, give me the tools, help me now. You've helped me before. You've helped me all the way through the last two years. Help me again and we can reform the broken system."
Mr. Schwarzenegger says four measures would fix the system. One would the give the governor additional power to cut state spending. Another would require public employee unions, which oppose this governor, to get the written consent of members before using their union dues for political purposes. Another would make it easier for schools to dismiss poorly performing teachers in their first five years of service. A fourth measure would allow a panel of retired judges to redraw state legislative districts.
In recent weeks, California airwaves have been filled with political ads. Those paid for by the governor and his allies have gone out in English and Spanish.
The governor's opponents have outspent him two to one on media ads, however. Anti-Schwarzenegger messages funded by public employee unions show firefighters and teachers complaining that the governor is undermining them.
Voice One: "He wants more power to cut funding for schools..."
Voice Two: "...and silence our voices so we can't speak out."
Polls show that most Californians are not enthusiastic about this special election, and Mr. Schwarzenegger's critics complain about its cost. The state of California has spent close to $50 million running the ballot, and the total cost of the campaign is estimated to add up to hundreds of millions.
One Hollywood Democrat, the actor Warren Beatty, has emerged as a major critic of Mr. Schwarzenegger. Another Democrat, the actor-director Rob Reiner, says the money for the election could be better spent elsewhere.
"This special election to me is totally misguided," said Rob Reiner. "I mean, you're going to be spending upwards of $250 million, and not one child is going to get educated."
Mr. Schwarzenegger's poll ratings have dropped in recent months, a result, his supporters say, of negative advertising aimed against him by entrenched special interests. His opponents portray the governor as out of step with voters in a state where Democrats dominate, and say his personal popularity cannot withstand the rough-and-tumble of politics.
Three of the four measures being pushed by the governor appeared to be heading for defeat, but Republican strategists say they hope their targeted efforts to get out supporters to vote will reverse the trend.