From the Los Angeles Times
How Arnold Schwarzenegger changed his mind on Prop. 98 and lost the support of the all-powerful teachers union
By Joe Mathews
Joe Mathews covers labor and politics for The Times. This article is adapted from Joe Mathews' upcoming book "The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy" (Public
July 30, 2006
Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the Sheraton conference room with an unlit stogie in his mouth. On this day in November 2004, his concession to the Sacramento hotel's smoking rules was the only one he would make to limits set by others. After a string of victories in his first year in office, the governor believed that he had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overturn California's political order in 2005.
Although Schwarzenegger often oversold even his modest achievements as historic reforms, in private he talked about his frustration with the slow pace of change in the state, and about how the political reality stymied major progress. He wanted to invest billions in repairing California's infrastructure, but the budget, though far healthier than when he took office, was still unbalanced. As the governor tried to make political history, his own political history boxed him in. He knew it would be a struggle to reconcile his campaign promises to reduce the state budget deficit, avoid a tax increase and protect popular public spending, particularly the school funding guarantee known as Proposition 98.
Much has been said and written about the supposed reasons for the governor's slide in the polls during his second year in office, including his fight with a nurses union and the rhetorical misstep of calling legislators "girlie men." But the real story of his political rise—and the subsequent decline from which he has only partially recovered—centers on his relationship with the 335,000-member California Teachers Assn. and a deal that he and his closest advisor, Bonnie Reiss, negotiated with the union shortly after his election in the waning days of 2003. That agreement reflected his stated desire to protect Prop. 98 and education funding. During an interview at Riverside's historic Mission Inn in the midst of the campaign to recall his predecessor, Gray Davis, I had asked Schwarzenegger if he would suspend the Prop. 98 guarantee to balance the budget. "Not over my dead body," he replied.