Politics and pathos

Political war has broken out in California, and as usual in these situations the citizens will be the ones to suffer.

This week Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a call to arms by scheduling a special fall election (cost to taxpayers: $80 million) on three pet initiatives, and the various armies on the field, bankrolled to the hilt, are rolling out the big guns. Get ready to be hammered by endless 30-second TV commercials from now till November. Just be glad you don’t live in Los Angeles, which has already had two elections this year.

Give Schwarzenegger credit for moxie. Polls show voters dislike the fall election almost 2-1. They could vote against his measures out of spite. In addition, the powerful teachers’ union sees his measure to extend the tenure qualification period from two to five years as a direct attack and will be mobilizing its members en masse.

Another measure on the ballot, sponsored by business-friendly interests, would require unions to get their members’ permission before using dues money for political purposes. It’s got unions up and down the state hopping mad, and they’ll be out in force, too.

Add in a hot-button measure requiring parental consent for minors’ abortions, another that would give the governor a flexible spending cap on the state budget, and one that would take redistricting out of the hands of legislators and give it to a panel of retired judges, and you have the makings of a donnybrook.

Schwarzenegger had no choice but to set the election for November. Had he waited until the regularly scheduled election in June 2006, when he likely would have been running for re-election, he couldn’t have campaigned for his own initiatives. But we can’t help feeling that it’s a further sign of the deterioration of California politics. Where once our legislators sincerely tried to work together to solve the state’s problems, now we have permanent hostile camps, government by initiative and a condition of perpetual campaigning. It’s pathetic.