As Election Day drew to a close, voters appeared to deal Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a stinging rebuke, rejecting all four of the initiatives he was backing for his "Year of Reform" agenda.
With 55 percent of precincts reporting as of 11 p.m., measures to control state spending and change the redistricting process were losing by large margins. A measure to lengthen the time for teachers to get tenure was trailing by 4 points, while a union dues measure was narrowly losing after taking an early lead.
The election results are a major blow to the actor-turned-governor, whose popularity has plummeted after months of concerted attacks from public employee unions and Democrats. Leading up to Election Day, most major statewide polls showed all four of the Schwarzenegger-backed initiatives losing.
At 10:20 p.m., Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger addressed his supporters at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. He thanked those who supported the propositions and those who voted against them.
"I want to thank the people who were so passionate in their opposition. I guess I didn't do a good enough job to convince them," he said.
He then said he planned to wait overnight for the results.
"Whatever the results, as soon as this is over, I will be back in Sacramento, working together with the Democrats to move our state forward," he said.
Schwarzenegger said he planned to hold a "Big 5" meeting with legislative leaders: Senate President Don Perata, D-Oakland; Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Fullerton; Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles; and Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.
"I'm going to leave for China on a trade mission right after that. When I return from Asia, we will get down to business," he said. "We've got to rebuild our infrastructure. So much is needed. We need more roads, bridges, more schools, nurses, firefighters. We also need more bipartisan cooperation to make this all happen. Californians believe that state is on the wrong track. We need reform."
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, school board member Jose Huizar held an early lead in the race to replace Antonio Villaraigosa on the City Council. With 14 percent of precincts reporting, he had 54 percent of the vote, while his leading challenger and former Councilman Nick Pacheco had 26 percent. Huizar had lined up support from the vast majority of local elected officials, including Villaraigosa.
On L.A.'s south side, former Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, facing token opposition, appeared to be coasting toward victory with 80 percent of the votes with 11 percent of precincts reporting.
Early returns also showed a $4 billion bond for the Los Angeles Unified School District with 60 percent of the votes, above the required 55 percent threshold.
Turnout appeared to trend towards the higher end of predictions. As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, 42 percent of registered voters in Los Angeles County had turned in ballots, fueled by a surge in absentee ballots. With such a high number of absentee ballots, voter registrars are warning that it might take several days for vote totals to come in, which could leave very close contests up in the air for days.
All told, more than $260 million was spent by all sides in the special election campaign, making it the most expensive in state history. The election itself cost local governments an estimated $50 million.
At the center of this election were the four initiatives endorsed by Schwarzenegger as part of his "Year of Reform" drive that began with his State of the State speech in January. These included:
Proposition 74: This would have extended the teacher tenure threshold from two years to five years. As of 11 p.m., with 55 percent of precincts reporting, it was trailing by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.
Proposition 75: This would have required public employee unions to get written permission from their members before they make political contributions. With 55 percent of precincts reporting, it was losing by 300 votes after leading in early returns.
Proposition 76: This would have given the governor power to cut spending when revenues fall below projections. Voters appeared to overwhelmingly reject the measure: with 40 percent of precincts reporting, it was losing 60 percent to 40 percent, a margin too big to make up.
Proposition 77: This would have changed the way legislative districts are redrawn. It, too, appeared to be resoundingly defeated, losing by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent.
All four of these measures in some way targeted public employee unions or their Democrat allies. A fierce and effective counterattack from public employee unions has helped drive down Schwarzenegger's poll numbers. A year ago, Schwarzenegger's approval rating stood at nearly 70 percent; today, it's roughly half that, with virtually all Democrats and Independents abandoning their support.
Schwarzenegger's approval ratings were so low at the end of the campaign that he was forced to adopt a more conciliatory tone in his advertisements.
Public employee unions and their Democrat allies raised more than $120 million to defeat these measures, including $60 million from the California Teachers Association. Schwarzenegger and his business allies raised more than $60 million.
But the biggest spenders in this election were pharmaceutical companies, which raised and spent more than $82 million to back Proposition 78, a voluntary prescription drug discount plan and opposed Proposition 79, which requires pharmaceutical companies to provide discounts or lose lucrative state Medicaid contracts.
Both measures appeared headed to overwhelming defeats, which is generally regarded a victory for the pharmaceutical companies who pulled out all the stops to oppose 79.
Another hotly contested measure was Proposition 73, which would have required physicians to notify the parents of minors before those minors could obtain abortions. After an early lead, the measure was trailing as of 10:40 p.m., 51 percent to 49 percent.
Rounding out the state ballot was Proposition 80, which would have re-regulated portions of the electric utility industry, banning the ability of large companies to choose their electric providers. It was losing handily, 65 percent to 35 percent.
In selected local returns, voters in two L.A. County cities appeared to give mixed messages on tax measures. In the City of Commerce, a hotel bed tax raise was leading 61 percent to 39 percent, though it needs two-thirds support to pass. In Signal Hill, a utility tax was losing in early returns, 55 percent to 45 percent.
Three development-related measures were also on local ballots. In Hermosa Beach, a proposal to limit beachfront development was losing in early returns, 53 percent to 47 percent. But an open space measure in Calabasas was leading overwhelmingly, 87 percent to 13 percent. An advisory vote on whether Calabasas should annex land now proposed for the development of the Malibu Valley Inn and Spa was much closer, with 52 percent voting "no" and 48 percent voting "yes."
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