It's been barely three weeks since Governor Schwarzenegger announced his intentions to call a special election to validate his budget proposals, and already, skepticism is starting to shine through the cracks of Schwarzenegger's pro-democracy rhetoric.
In fact, even Schwarzenegger himself seems to have become something of a skeptic toward democracy, seeming to enjoy himself a little too much in the world of non-office seeking politics and even telling the Sacramento Bee that "he has more freedom to make policy decisions (including tax increases, a break from past campaign promises) precisely because he doesn't have to run for another office."
In other words, the trouble of actually listening to what the voters want (often an irrational set of signals to begin with) has finally loosened its impermeable grip on the office of the governor, releasing a liberated Schwarzenegger to make the hard decisions which a man of consequence should be allowed to make.
Now, Schwarzenegger's rejoicing is understandable as a private matter, but what is not understandable is why the man feels the need to trumpet his lack of obligation to the preferences of California's people from the rooftops in the pages of a major paper.
This is not to say anything against Schwarzenegger's character, but surely it cannot have escaped his mind that his rejoicing may be inopportune as a matter of political messaging, especially where the special election itself is concerned? Schwarzenegger's exuberance is positively bewildering, viewed in this light, especially when one considers the larger context in which California's voters behave.
And what of that larger context? The Los Angeles Times has recently published a story reporting that "If there is a lesson from the local elections so far, it is that the excitement spurred by the presidential contest is exceedingly hard to replicate." By way of example, the Times points out that while "almost 80% of registered voters turned out" in California on election night, "Little more than 6% "showed up for a late State Senate election." Unsurprisingly, the Times wonders if this lack of interest in statewide issues will impact the special election in May, and if so, how? Unfortunately, whatever the answer to this question, the results will not correlate with Schwarzenegger's needs.
Consider: If barely anybody shows up at the polls to vote on these special election issues, it will be all the easier for special interest groups to dominate the discourse. This is not something which would ordinarily be a problem, since special interest groups tend to cancel each other out, but in this case, no such balance of power exists. Political activists both Left and Right hate the bill and that's no surprise, given that it manages to simultaneously cut spending on schools and prisons (favorite pet projects of both sides) while raising taxes and further angering those who would normally support Republican ballot initiatives. As such, if few voters show up, those vocal special interest groups with grudges against the budget will likely control the ballot box, meaning that the budget will go down to obvious defeat.
And what of the other option, that numerous voters turn up? Given that the measures on the ballot will be measures that California's residents have a history of not supporting, the odds are very against this scenario ending well for the governor, though they are better than the conditions of low turnout. The polls currently bear a grim message for Schwarzenegger, as the Times reports that "none of the key budget measures on the May ballot is winning among likely voters." However, it is possible that with just the right amount of sophistry and optimism, this result could be reversed. Maybe.
But the way for Schwarzenegger to get there is not by celebrating that he no longer has to care what California's people think. This sends a very perverse message to the voters - that they are a stone around the neck of the governor. This message will inspire apathetic guilt at best and anti-Schwarzenegger outrage at worst, and will either result in resounding defeat at the polls via special interests or via populist outrage.
Either way, the governor needs to display more discipline in releasing his message, if he wants to get his budget past the final hurdle.
Because, after all, this special election will be deadly if it turns into Schwarzenegger's final special rejection.