Borrowing a political tool Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has used with relish, liberal groups and Democratic lawmakers plan to place on the ballot some long-favored policies the governor...

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Borrowing a political tool Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has used with relish, liberal groups and Democratic lawmakers plan to place on the ballot some long-favored policies the governor has blocked.

Advocates hope the tactic could provide leverage for labor and consumer causes defeated through vetoes and ballot measures this year.

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But the approach also could increase the Capitol’s partisan rancor, and even Democratic leaders say it could provide voters with a fresh signal that the Legislature is becoming irrelevant.

The next statewide elections are in June 2006. But Schwarzenegger’s top aides have said he is considering calling a special election next fall on his proposals to reorganize state bureaucracies and curtail the Legislature’s power.

“There’s a general sense that the backlight for the entire year will be the special election,” said Democrat Don Perata, Senate president pro tem. “So people have begun to talk that, if that’s going to be the case, we had better put things on the ballot that our voters care about. If it’s going to be a shootout at the OK Corral, we want to be armed.”

The approach could turn any special election into a free-for-all.

“If the left sees the special election as a place to pile on their agenda, then conservatives will be right behind them,” said Bill Whalen, a research fellow at the conservative think tank Hoover Institution and a political consultant who has worked for Schwarzenegger and other Republicans. “What’s stopping the right from pushing the illegal-immigration measure? The special election could start off as an exercise in good government but end up as an exercise in bad government, i.e., partisan warfare.”

Possible ballot initiatives under discussion by an assortment of liberal groups and Democrats would increase California’s minimum wage, make it easier to buy prescription drugs from Canada, and arrange for bulk purchases of prescription drugs at lower prices.

All those measures passed the Democratic-led Legislature this year but were vetoed by Schwarzenegger.

Various advocacy groups also are talking about using the ballot to win financing for more affordable housing and children’s health programs, ideas that do well in polls but may be difficult for legislators to incorporate into next year’s state budget, given California’s steep fiscal problems.

“We are considering taking a page out of his playbook and going to the ballot, where I think the people of California will agree with the Democratic Legislature that it’s time for relief from skyrocketing drug prices,” Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer said. “What we’re feeling is, with this governor, this is the only way we’re going to get relief.”