Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to pass a ballot initiative that raises taxes and limits state spending. It is opposed by most of the state’s taxpayer groups, almost all grassroots conservative organizations, and several labor unions. It is linked with no fewer than four other ballot measures, none of which currently enjoys majority support in public opinion polling. Oh yes, the initiative’s most notable proponent has an approval rating of less
than 40 percent. Best of luck . . .
By Calbuzzer Dan Schnur
Actually, passing Proposition 1A on the May 19 special election ballot is not quite the Mission Improbable suggested above. While Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poll numbers have taken a nasty hit during the recent budget crisis and economic meltdown, voters tend to warm to him considerably when they see him reaching across party lines. Schwarzenegger not only has the support of most of the state’s leading Democrats, but the initiative package was designed specifically to lessen the likelihood of opposition from the California Teachers Association.
And while other unions have come out against the initiatives, the deep-pocketed CTA’s endorsement of 1A almost eliminates the likelihood of significant funding for an opposition campaign. Add the support of the state Chamber of Commerce, and odds are that the initiative committee will have a huge financial advantage during an extremely short and intense campaign. Conservative opponents bring plenty of populist passion to the other side, but without lots of union money to run a “no” campaign, that passion is going to be hard for voters to hear over the advertising onslaught that Schwarzenegger and his allies will be able to buy.
A sizable check from either GOP gubernatorial candidates Steve Poizner or Meg Whitman looks like the last, best hope for the opposition, but neither Poizner nor Whitman has yet indicated a willingness to write one.
But all the money in the world doesn’t go very far without a message. So how does an unpopular governor pass an even less popular initiative? Answer: Keep Arnold out of the ads and let everyday Californians warn about what happens if the initiative package doesn’t pass. Closing prisons, shutting down hospitals, burning schoolchildren at the stake – all of these horrors and worse await Californians who defeat Props 1A and the others. Throw in a direct mail campaign to Republicans setting off alarms for massive tax increases and you’ve got the level of fear it might take to bring the initiatives across the finish line.
Lastly, and most importantly, this positions a campaign sponsored by the governor and three of the state’s leading legislators to be directed against the political establishment. “This is your chance to fix the mess that the politicians got us into. Send them a message that if they won’t do the right thing for California, we will.”
Could the opponents point out that the campaign against the politicians is being run by… politicians? Sure, if they had the money to make the case. But with seven weeks until Election Day, it’s increasingly unlikely that the money’s going to be there.
Dan Schnur is director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and was a senior communications adviser to John McCain and Pete Wilson.