Down but not out

The glitter is fading on California’s action-hero governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. His fans are deserting him (he’s lost a quarter of his support in the polls), his charisma and political acumen are failing him, his opponents aren’t following his script, and his ballot initiative proposals are self-terminating—and so far for good reason. It would be a shame, however, if the most important of his efforts—redistricting and spending reform—died with them.

Of the five major proposals included in Schwarzenegger’s touted “year of reform,” three are dead or moribund. He’s dropped his fatally flawed public pension initiative, merit pay for teachers is tanking, and he’s backtracking on teachers’ eligibility for tenure.

Schwarzenegger and his allies simply didn’t have their ducks lined up. Rushing to write their measures, they didn’t think them out well, politically or otherwise. Now the governor is hemming and hawing and saying he’ll keep trying.

That’s good. Reform is needed. But instead of using the initiative process to achieve targeted goals better reached legislatively, he should use it to change the very system. The remaining redistricting and budget-process-reform measures are most important right now.

The governor’s initiative to give redistricting to a panel of retired judges is critical. Removing legislators’ ability to carve out safe districts for themselves in time will make the Legislature more functional, enabling it to deal with such issues as pension reform and teacher tenure. And his plan to reform the state budget process would smooth out spending, allow for greater flexibility, and make a reasonable compromise on education funding under Proposition 98.

To his credit, Schwarzenegger has acknowledged the weaknesses in his reform package so far. He’s taken knocks for it, but we hope that doesn’t keep him from using his remaining political muscle—and he’s got plenty of it left—to create real and lasting reform in California.