The problem with socialism, the great socialist and wit Oscar Wilde once remarked, was that it took up too many evenings. Wilde was referring to democratic socialism, of course (he died before the Bolsheviks perverted the ideology), and what he meant was that subjecting all manner of decisions to democratic discussion and deliberation was too damned exhausting. The problem with California politics, Arnold Schwarzenegger calculated earlier this year, was too many elections. After electing Gray Davis in 2002, ousting him in 2003, and going through the presidential election last year, Californians would be at their wits’ end if confronted this year with yet another statewide contest — with its torrent of tossable mail, recorded phone calls (was that Pope Benedict, calling on behalf of parental notification, whom you just put on hold?) and televised ads. Surely, Californians would protest. Surely, they would stay home and just not vote. How else to explain his otherwise incomprehensible decision to inflict four partisan Republican ballot measures on the largely Democratic voters of the state? Twice before in the past 30 years — once in 1979, and again in 1993 — Californians had endured special elections that had propositions but no candidates on the ballot, and each time, their turnout rate was roughly 37 percent. If turnout was that low or a little lower, and if Republicans, charged up by that parental-notification measure, were a disproportionately high share of the electorate, then Arnold just might prevail. Not surprisingly, though, the labor movement understood exactly what the Governator was up to. The unions’ goal was to push turnout above 40 percent, and on Tuesday, they did just that. Turnout was not disproportionately Republican — indeed, it was so un-Republican that the parental-notification measure, which has passed almost everywhere it has appeared on a ballot, went down in a heap. Three hundred million dollars spent on the election, and every measure lost. And if ever there was a year in which the stars didn’t seem aligned for labor, this was it. In May, Miguel Contreras, the visionary strategist who’d made the L.A. County Federation of Labor the best left-of-center political operation in the country, suddenly died. In July, the national AFL-CIO, and its unified list of all union members, split in two. Yet somehow, labor pulled itself together. Unions put more than $100 million into their anti-Arnold campaign. Martin Ludlow, who left the City Council to succeed Contreras, worked tirelessly to keep both AFL-CIO and non-AFL-CIO unions working together, not just locally but nationally. (Anyone who heard Ludlow’s introduction, at last Sunday’s get-out-the-vote rally, of Anna Burger, chair of the new Change To Win Federation, the AFL-CIO’s rival, knew they were in the presence of an accomplished diplomat.) Indeed, the urgency of cross-federation collaboration in California probably forced both national federations to agree on a formula to keep the state and local labor councils together. The nightly tracking polls conducted for the union coalition, the Alliance for a Better California, were not as rosy as the final Los Angeles Times and Field polls — indeed, they showed Proposition 75, the governor’s measure to curtail the unions’ electoral involvement, to be a dead heat if turnout was no higher than 36 percent. By last weekend, though, labor was confident that its efforts — it had 4,000 activists working L.A. County on Election Day alone — would boost turnout over the magical 40 percent mark. Moreover, a parallel effort among Latino voters was being conducted by a new alliance of organizations, spearheaded by the statewide janitors’ local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — and on this effort, the precinct walkers had to alter their pitch. “The people we talked to didn’t want to hear about the propositions,” said Mike Garcia, who heads the local. “They wanted to talk about getting rid of the governor. We ended up mobilizing their vote by talking about the Minutemen at the border, and Arnold’s veto of the driver’s-license bill and the minimum-wage hike.” Latinos are just one of many groups whose regard for Arnold has fallen precipitously over the past nine months — from a re-election rating of over 50 percent at the beginning of the year to under 25 percent today. Worse yet, Arnold’s standing among independents and moderates is only a few points higher than that among Democrats and liberals. The conventional wisdom, I know, is that the governor will re-center himself (he certainly reverted to his nonpartisan persona in his election-night concession speech) and be able to wage a strong re-election campaign next year. I’ll believe that when I see it. My own sense is that his nine-month war with California’s cops, nurses, teachers and firefighters has tarnished him beyond possibility of repair. Of course, you can’t beat somebody with nobody, but a number of Arnold’s opponents acquitted themselves quite well in battling him over the past few months. State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who’s already received contributions from 16,000 supporters, emerges from Tuesday’s election as the front-runner in the battle to replace the Governator, with a clear lead over the only other declared Democratic candidate, Controller Steve Westly. Angelides was as ubiquitous as Westly was absent in the anti-Arnold rallies of the past several weeks — fittingly, since Angelides has opposed Schwarzenegger’s anti-tax, anti-spend economics from the start, while Westly has embraced it more often than he’s rejected it. Warren Beatty and Rob Reiner were stumping against Arnold, too, but, when polled against Arnold, don’t run as well as Angelides and Westly. (Could it be that Arnold has screwed up so badly that he’s ruined it for actors in California politics?) More fundamentally, as Angelides points out, Arnold’s anti-tax, anti-spend politics — reducing admissions and hiking tuition at the state universities, for instance, rather than hiking taxes on the rich — clearly runs counter to popular sentiment. (The treasurer notes that more than 100 localities have voted to raise their property taxes to fund school bonds in the two years since Arnold became governor.) One year before he himself must face the voters, the ideas of Arnold, and the idea of Arnold, have less and less appeal.

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