Steel is the immediate past president of the California Republican
Party, activist, commentator, conservative stalwart and recall
proponent. Mr. Steel is an attorney practicing in Palos Verdes,
Dominance of State is Dead
Election message is clear: Don't raise our taxes and stop
[Shawn Steel] 3/11/04
The March 2 primary election indicates the spirit of the Gray
Davis recall is alive and well. The recall of the unpopular
Democratic Davis and the combined 62 percent of the vote captured
by Republicans Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom McClintock upended
assumptions that Democratic dominance of California politics
was part of the natural order of the universe. Last week's
primary election is further evidence that the electorate is
refusing to abide by its image as the "Left Coast," and
contains strong messages for Republicans and Democrats alike.
Obviously, the big winner is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in light
of the overwhelming approval of his Propositions 57 and 58. I
am not singing the praises of Prop. 57, which I view as a nasty
but necessary detour along the way to re-establishing fiscal
responsibility. But regardless of one's views of 57 and 58, their
passage sharply increases Schwarzenegger's clout in the coming
struggle over budget cuts with the Democratic Legislature.
There's been plenty of talk about the governor bypassing an
obstructionist Legislature to enact his reforms, but it was all
theory and no practice. By taking two initiatives that started
out behind in the polls - usually a sure sign of defeat - and
marshaling lopsided victories through force of personality, Schwarzenegger
has provided Democrats with disconcerting proof that threats
to go directly to the people will very likely succeed.
Indeed, his administration is already working to qualify a workers'
compensation reform initiative, since the Legislature allowed
his March 1 deadline for reform legislation to pass without action.
When was the last time California had a governor who could credibly
make such a threat to the Legislature?
The election was also a big victory in the taxpayers' ongoing
struggle with government employee unions. A resounding 66 percent
of voters said no to Proposition 56, sponsored by the unions
to make it easier for the Legislature to raise taxes and spend
money. 76 percent of Orange County voters rejected it; Prop.
56 lost in even ultraliberal Santa Cruz County.
There can be no mistaking the message of Prop. 56's defeat:
Fix the budget mess without increasing taxes. This is a warning
to Democratic legislators - especially those in marginal seats
whose willingness to raise taxes is exceeded only by their desire
to stay in office - and to GOPers tempted to succumb to media
It is also a brake on the governor, who not long after taking
office signaled a willingness to entertain new taxes if Californians
favored them. The results on Prop. 56 can be considered the definitive
poll on the subject.
The anti-tax mood was also signaled by the results on Proposition
55. These school bonds sprout like mushrooms on every ballot,
and are approved almost as routinely. Yet Prop. 55 passed by
only the narrowest of margins, reflective of the voters' antipathy
to business-as- usual that was expressed so explosively in the
The big losers in this election were the public employees' unions,
for whom Gray Davis' election in 1998 ushered in five fat years.
Davis and the Democratic Legislature lavished big pay raises
and unsustainably generous retirement benefits on state employees.
As long as the two-thirds vote requirement allows Republicans
to block tax increases, it will be extraordinarily difficult
to protect those gains in the faces of a $15 billion annual deficit.
This in turn strengthens Schwarzenegger's hand in his ongoing
chess game to check the power of these unions.
election foreshadow a Republican realignment? No. But I do
think it spells the end of Democratic domination that was
until recently considered an immutable characteristic of the
state's political landscape, and it continues the recall's liquefaction
of the political status quo. Here's hoping it will give Democratic
lawmakers incentive to restrain their tax-and- spend impulses,
and caution the squishier elements of California Republicanism
that me-tooism is not the road to revival. CRO
This piece first appeared in the Orange County Register
Steel is a co-founder of the Davis recall campaign and immediate past
chairman of the California Republican Party.
2004 Shawn Steel