SACRAMENTO — If there's doubt Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's special-election push is in big trouble, foes in the Bay Area plan to crush it today.
Even a conservative GOP group joined the opposition as
traditional Democratic constituencies Monday prepared a massive protest outside a scheduled Schwarzenegger fund-raiser tonight at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in San Francisco.
An array of labor unions, representing everyone from nurses to teachers, hope to field 10,000 protesters loud enough to drown out Schwarzenegger's pitch inside for a fall special election. His initiatives would, among other things, curtail state-worker pensions, change the way teachers are paid and establish new fiscal controls affecting schools. Even traditional GOP supporters — firefighters and law enforcement officers — are join-
ing a string of growing protests against the governor's proposals.
Members of about 150 unions from San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and other parts of the Bay Area are expected to participate in today's protest, said Tim Paulson, executive director of the California Labor Council.
"Schwarzenegger's a non-action hero who is attacking the real action heroes of California," Paulson said Monday at an organizing session in Oakland. "We're going to make sure he's not welcome in San Francisco."
Schwarzenegger and his supporters, which include big business and anti-tax groups, are portraying their foes as unwelcome special interests using "scare tactics" in an attempt to derail needed reforms in deficit-plagued California.
"Union leaders, who are forcing state and local government into bankruptcy so they can maintain their gold-plated pensions, have been lying to the people of California" about the negative affects of Schwarzenegger's proposals, said Joanne Monaco, a spokeswoman for Citizens to Save California.
Though the once highly popular governor is raising tens of millions of dollars to wage battle as a self-described champion of voters and foe of lawmakers and the status quo, his ratings are slipping in polls as his opponents build huge war chests themselves to depict him as pandering to big-industry contributors.
"You can join Arnold, if you've got the bucks," said Jamie Court of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
The actor-turned-politician who unseated Democratic Gov. Gray Davis two years ago in what was described as a voter revolt, has tackled what analysts and strategists from both parties view as perhaps too many complex, Herculean tasks all at once. They range from the budget deficit, to government reorganization, to the planned special election that bypasses the Legislature. The tactic also has fostered an avalanche of proposed initiatives from his foes.
He's in "dangerous" territory, said Barbara O'Connor of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media in Sacramento.
Schwarzenegger strategists downplay the perils. But independent voters are shifting against the governor, and even conservative Republicans have announced opposition for their own reason — he's not being tough enough.
"California needs real budget reform that reins in out-of-control government spending," said Mike Spence, president of the conservative California Republican Assembly.
"Schwarzenegger ran for office on the premise that California needed to get its house in order, but the (budget limiting) 'Live Within Our Means Act' does absolutely nothing to fix the state's structural fiscal problems," Spence said.
Some of the stakeholders joining tonight's protest have disagreements with Schwarzenegger that began building before the governor decided to hold a special election. The nurses union, for instance, first clashed with the governor in the fall, when Schwarzenegger issued an emergency regulation blocking the implementation of stricter nurse-to-patient ratios. The union lobbied for more than 10 years to get the ratios into law, signed by Davis in 1999.
The California Nurses Association sued the state over the emergency regulation, and last month a Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the union. Hospitals were required to comply with the ratios immediately, including one nurse for every five patients on busy surgical units. The association launched a billboard campaign Monday at its headquarters in Oakland in anticipation of the massive protest against Schwarzenegger in San Francisco today.
"We are here to take care of our patients, and we feel this is not Arnold's agenda," said Rose Ann De Moro, executive director of the association, which represents 60,000 registered nurses statewide. The initial campaign features a menacing-looking Schwarzenegger juxtaposed against Patricia Gonzalez, a nurse at Children's Hospital Oakland. Above the two portraits reads, "She heals. He wheels & deals."
In Santa Monica, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights staged a similar rollout of roving billboards that will travel to protests.
Staff writer Rebecca Vesely contributed to his report.
© 2005 the Oakland Tribune