Pumping power

Rarely if ever in California’s history has a sitting governor taken as active a role in influencing an election as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did this year. He was up and down the state and all over the airwaves in his effort to affect the outcomes of certain propositions as well as get more Republicans elected to the state Legislature.

He was remarkably effective with the initiatives—voters followed 10 of his 14 recommendations—but struck out when it came to supporting GOP candidates in tight races, leading outgoing Senate President Pro Tem John Burton to crow, “It’s clear the Democrats in the Legislature have nothing to fear from the governor, and they can deal with him as equals.”

Well, maybe. Then again, by showing his power to enact, or help to enact, legislation by going directly to voters, the governor not only flexed his outsized muscles, but also kicked sand in the face of a weak Legislature incapable of solving the major problems the state faces.

Where this will lead is uncertain, but we can hope that Schwarzenegger will use his clout to deliver the systemic reform that’s so desperately needed.

In the meantime, he’s given hints that he might revisit the state’s “three strikes” law, which he managed to protect from reform via his last-minute but fervent opposition to Proposition 66. Reportedly, the initiative’s deletion of burglary and arson as third-strike crimes was more than he could tolerate. OK, but many other nonviolent crimes should be exempted, not only to be fair, but also to save taxpayers money. Schwarzenegger has promised to meet with the attorney general and lawmakers to seen if any changes should be made. They should.

The governor also showed that his wishes and the voters’ coincided when it came to gambling casinos. The defeat of Propositions 68 and 70 sent a strong signal that citizens want at least a cooling-off period when it comes to allowing more gambling in the state.

Then there’s Proposition 71, the $3 billion stem-cell research measure. This is a hugely expensive and risky measure, and the governor put his credibility and clout on the line by supporting it. As the New York Times notes in a Nov. 5 editorial, the state’s voters “performed a valuable service that should help keep this nation in the forefront of one of the most promising areas of biomedical research.”

But the Times also warns of the lack of oversight in the measure and urges the new program’s managers to take great care to handle the funds wisely and fairly. The governor needs to pay sharp attention here; if the program even begins to look dicey, he’ll get the blame. Such is the price of power.