Steel is Director California Club for Growth, the immediate
past president of the California Republican Party, activist,
commentator, conservative stalwart and a
co-founder of the Davis Recall. He is an attorney
practicing in Palos Verdes, California.
Voters have the opportunity to sidestep the liberal Legislature...
[Tony Strickland & Shawn Steel] 3/10/05
year, California will be the setting for the most important
election since the presidential election - not a
contest between two candidates but between the conservative
future and the liberal past. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will
call a statewide special election on a slew of ballot propositions
giving voters a choice between moving California in a forward-looking
conservative direction or sliding backward into reactionary
More than a year after the historic recall election, California
still struggles to recover from the obscene state spending binge
of the Gray Davis years. After a frustrating year of trying to
work with the Democratic-run Legislature to fix the situation,
the governor has decided it is time for a showdown. In his State
of the State address, he took aim at several particularly septic
areas of public life: government spending, public employee pensions,
public schools and gerrymandered legislative districts.
Schwarzenegger will package his reforms as a series of ballot
initiatives to restore fiscal and political sanity to California's
One initiative will target California's runaway structural deficit.
A complex series of spending formulas consistently spikes spending
ahead of revenues. Schwarzenegger wants to counterbalance that
with some form of automatic restraint on spending to ensure expenditures
don't exceed receipts.
A second would replace the state's 153 gerrymandered legislative
and congressional districts with districts drawn by a panel of
retired judges, which would thenceforth conduct the decennial
redistricting. California did this after the 1990 census, and,
as a result, control of the Assembly changed hands twice during
that decade. Schwarzenegger's plan is for these new lines to
be in place for the 2006 election.
Finally, Schwarzenegger wants to steer new government workers
away from the defined-benefit public employee pension plans whose
costs are spiraling out of control and into 401(k)-style defined-contribution
plans, as well as implement merit pay for teachers and suspend
the sacrosanct Proposition 98 guarantee of 40 percent of general
fund revenues for K-14 spending.
California's reactionary liberal establishment has responded
with its own bundle of ballot initiatives, including measures
to dramatically boost corporate taxes, hike the state minimum
wage to $7.75 per hour and index it to inflation, and force small
businesses to provide health insurance to their employees.
One liberal group has submitted an initiative to provide "affordable" prescription
drugs to all Californians, impose price controls, and slap taxes
on pharmaceutical manufacturers and marketers to pay for administering
the new program.
The union-front group "California Tax Reform Association" is
behind a "split-roll property tax" initiative. Currently,
Proposition 13 limits both commercial and residential property
taxes to no more than 1 percent of the assessed value, and only
allows reassessment when a property is sold. It is virtually
our only tax advantage vis-à-vis other states. Under this
labor-backed initiative, commercial property would be split onto
a separate roll and regularly reassessed, allowing local and
state governments to profit from skyrocketing property values.
It would plunge a knife through the heart of Prop. 13 - which
has been the dream of Establishment California since voters ignored
their scare tactics to enact the landmark taxpayer protection
This ballot initiative battle will be a straightforward issues-based
contest between forward-looking conservatism and reactionary
liberalism: fundamental reform based on liberty, free choice
and government restraint versus a last, violent spasm of intellectually
bankrupt liberal paternalism.
It is entirely possible Schwarzenegger will run the table. If
the election comes down to whom voters trust, a majority of Californians
will side with the Terminator.
Partisans across the country, not just in California, should
watch this election closely. Schwarzenegger may not be a conservative
in the traditional understanding of the word, but he is framing
this fight in Reaganesque terms of liberty, opportunity and taming
the government "monster."
It is said that as California goes, so goes the nation. If Schwarzenegger
wins this fight, both parties will have a lot to think about. CRO
Former Assemblyman Tony Strickland is president of the California
Club for Growth Shawn
Steel is Director California Club for Growth, a co-founder
of the Davis recall campaign and immediate past chairman
of the California Republican Party.
2005 California Club for Growth