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California Special Election in Doubt

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Today a California court considers a case of special concern to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his effort to change California politics, the governor put four measures on a special election ballot, but one has already been withdrawn. And this morning a second measure is before the state Court of Appeal. The plan would take away the power of state lawmakers to draw their own election districts. It's already been rejected by a lower court, as NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE reporting:

Here's the problem. Schwarzenegger's allies submitted one version of the redistricting measure for the ballot and then circulated a slightly different one for voter signatures. An innocent mistake, say the measure's backers. But the court may not care, says Rick Hasen, professor of election law at Loyola Law School.

Professor RICK HASEN (Loyola Law School): There's something to be said for requiring people to stick with the rules as they're written. And this problem was caused by the carelessness of the initiative's circulators. Hence, the courts may not be that charitable to initiative circulators who could have had identical measures in both places but failed to do so.

JAFFE: Which would leave just half of Schwarzenegger's agenda intact. Remaining on the ballot would be a state spending limit that would increase the governor's power to make budget cuts and a measure to make it easier to fire incompetent schoolteachers. Schwarzenegger himself withdrew an initiative to privatize the pensions of public employees after cops and firefighters complained that it would have also done away with their death and disability benefits. Tony Quinn, a non-partisan political analyst, says if the courts yank the redistricting measure, there'll be increased pressure on Schwarzenegger to call off the special election altogether.

Mr. TONY QUINN (Political Analyst): There is really no reason for him to go ahead with this election, put his prestige on the line, especially when the public's made it very clear that they do not want a special election this fall.

JAFFE: In fact, major state polls show that not only do voters reject the need to spend upwards of $45 million on the special election, but that the governor's redistricting measure and spending limit are also losing. This after spending $23 million to qualify and promote his initiative. Meanwhile, his opponents, mainly public employee unions, are raising money at least as fast as he is. Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State-Sacramento, says if Schwarzenegger called off the special election, he'd be doing the voters and himself a favor.

Ms. BARBARA O'CONNOR (Cal State-Sacramento): Californians would welcome not having to throw their televisions out the window, watching all of these ads, and I think they're also very forgiving of a politician who says, `I've made a mistake. I'm listening to you. Let's go about doing this in a bipartisan legislative way.' I don't see any downside.

JAFFE: In fact, speculation about calling off the special election has been all the rage. Can he do it by proclamation? Would the Legislature have to pass something? And so on. Except there's no way that Schwarzenegger would call off the special election, says his political consultant, Todd Harris.

Mr. TODD HARRIS (Governor Schwarzenegger's Political Consultant): Governor Schwarzenegger came into office under a banner of reform. And all of these reforms are critical to changing the way that California does business.

JAFFE: Including, he says, the redistricting measure. The Court of Appeal is expected to rule quickly on whether it should remain on the ballot. That'll leave time for the loser to take their case to the state Supreme Court.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Los Angeles.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."