With the increasing likelihood that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will call a special statewide election for late next year to put a state government reform package before voters, the battle now begins among interest groups and politicians over just what reform proposals will make it onto that ballot.


Schwarzenegger has said he supports taking the redistricting process out of the hands of the Democrat-controlled Legislature and he has expressed support for a stricter state spending cap. He's also said he would put on the ballot other reforms from a massive proposed overhaul of state government if the Legislature decides not to act on them.


But the governor is likely to face competing pressures as details of these proposals are hammered out. For example, incumbent Republican legislators whose votes Schwarzenegger would need to pass a budget might resist redistricting reform that could throw them out of office.


Schwarzenegger has not said whether he would endorse a redistricting initiative from Ted Costa the "godfather" of last year's recall election that would hand the power to redraw legislative districts to a panel of retired judges. That initiative received clearance last week to begin gathering signatures.


Costa's measure could run into legal trouble, since it would also redraw congressional district boundaries. The U.S. Supreme Court recently remanded to a lower court a plan from Texas Republican lawmakers to redraw congressional districts in that state for the second time in a decade.


Meanwhile, a coalition of conservative groups is considering gathering signatures for an initiative to limit the annual growth of the state budget. The coalition includes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Taxpayers Association and state Sen.-elect John Campbell, R-Irvine.


Schwarzenegger proposed a nearly identical spending cap last December, only to agree to a watered-down proposal from the Democrat-controlled Legislature that became Proposition 56 on the ballot last March. Schwarzenegger has not yet endorsed the taxpayer groups' initiative effort.


As for the report on overhauling the state government, timing is crucial. Schwarzenegger has said he prefers legislative action, which might not happen until the end of next summer. By then, it would be too late to take those reforms to a vote of the people in 2005.


Complicating matters is the prospect of an initiative banning driver licenses for illegal immigrants. Supporters of that measure have until March to collect at least 600,000 signatures; if successful, that initiative automatically goes onto the next statewide ballot.


"This measure would create a divisive debate on both sides," said Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University Sacramento. "It would make the political calculations on the dynamics surrounding a special election much more difficult."


The chief concern for Schwarzenegger and state government reform advocates is that such a measure could drive thousands of predominantly Democrat Latinos to the polls and create a much more partisan atmosphere.


What's more Schwarzenegger antagonized many Latinos with his recent veto of a bill allowing driver licenses for illegal immigrants.


The bill's author, Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, said he intends to reintroduce an identical bill this session, ensuring that the debate will be kept alive next year in Sacramento.


Perata Looks Secure


Reports of an FBI investigation involving state Sen. Don Perata are not likely to sway lawmakers this week as they're expected to make the Oakland Democrat their next president pro-tempore to replace the termed-out John Burton.


"I don't know of any senators who are rethinking their votes," said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica. "The media seems to be more engaged in stirring up questions about whether there will be a struggle. But all I've seen is a rehash of old charges."


Kuehl ran for the post herself earlier this year, then threw her support to fellow Los Angeles Democrat Martha Escutia in her unsuccessful bid. Escutia came up one vote short in a hotly contested caucus election last August.


The investigation is said to center on whether Perata received payments from business and personal associates hoping to curry favor with the powerful legislator.


(Escutia faces her own conflict-of-interest situation as allegations have surfaced regarding the business dealings of her husband, a prominent political consultant.)


Assuming Perata gets Burton's post, state Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, will likely take over Perata's old post as chair of the Elections and Reapportionment committee.


Bowen's committee could emerge as a rallying point for legislators and interests aligned with the Democratic Party who favor the "safe seats" of the status quo.


Bowen's chief of staff, Evan Goldberg, said she would make sure any reforms would not be implemented until after the 2010 census. "It's a dangerous idea to do this midstream, between census counts. That smacks of the partisan nature of what went on in Texas," he said.


Bowen's committee will also have to weigh in on the continuing controversy over converting to electronic voting machines. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley temporarily decertified electronic voting machines made by Diebold Inc. following problems in Orange and Riverside counties.


Goldberg said Bowen's chief concern would be making sure "every vote is counted accurately."


Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227, or by e-mail at hfine@labusinessjournal.com.

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