Schwarzenegger fights to protect his climate-change and redistricting legacy – Sacramento Politics – California Politics | Sacramento Bee

By Kevin Yamamura

Published: Monday, Apr. 26, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 26, 2010 – 10:32 am

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has long relied on the ballot as a political weapon, wielding direct democracy over the heads of opponents throughout his time in office.

In his final year, wealthy donors have turned the tables. They hope to use the ballot to erase two of his biggest legacy pieces, a landmark climate-change law and an independent redistricting process.

Schwarzenegger is eyeing a major fall showdown against oil companies and other businesses over an initiative to suspend Assembly Bill 32, which requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Many firms did not support that change four years ago because they feared higher costs and now sense a chance to derail it as California struggles with a 12.6 percentunemployment rate.

Contributors – mostly oil firms and a mysterious Missouri donor, the Adam Smith Foundation – have paid $1.9 million to gather signatures for an initiative to suspend AB 32.

Another donor, entertainment magnate Haim Saban, has loaned $2 million toward a second initiative that would once again let state lawmakers draw political boundaries, defying the governor’s previous efforts.

Schwarzenegger acknowledges he will have to play defense this fall.

“You do something really well and it is very successful and then people are there to take it out again,” he observed last week.

But how successfully can Schwarzenegger protect his agenda?

His poll ratings are at an all-time low after persistent budget cuts and last year’s temporary tax hikes.

Fundraising has been a constant strength for Schwarzenegger, but he is a lame duck who has to find money for several fights. The governor already has tapped donors this spring for an open primary initiative on the June 8 ballot. He must also advocate for an $11 billion water bond in November, another crucial piece of his agenda.

“I think he has to pick his battles pretty carefully,” said Gale Kaufman, a Democratic political consultant and adviser to the California Teachers Association.

Schwarzenegger’s political strategist, Adam Mendelsohn, said the governor remains committed to passing the water bond this fall. He emphasized that Schwarzenegger won’t have to fight any of these battles alone.

“There are very significant, influential constituencies that are going to charge up the mountain to defend both of these policies,” he said of AB 32 and redistricting. “The burden to beat back these campaigns is not entirely on the shoulders of Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

A campaign to fight the AB 32 suspension has drawn support from environmentalists, renewable energy companies and technology firms, as well as foundations. Steven Maviglio, spokesman for the effort, expressed confidence that his campaign would have plenty of money.

“We’ll be going mano a mano with the polluters,” he said.

So far, oil companies have financed most of the drive to put the initiative on the ballot. The proposal would suspend AB 32 until unemployment drops to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters.

Proponents say consumers and businesses will pay substantial costs to cut carbon emissions. Schwarzenegger and environmental groups suggest that AB 32 will generate new jobs in a “green technology” industry.

The California Chamber of Commerce has not endorsed the initiative. But other business groups, including the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, have pledged support.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and chairman of the AB 32 initiative, predicted the broader business community will pledge money once the proposal qualifies for the ballot.

Schwarzenegger last month wrote a letter to the California Air Resources Board urging the panel to slow down its cap-and-trade system. ARB is considering an initial auction of emissions credits. Schwarzenegger suggested that ARB should instead offer credits for free at the outset.

The letter was widely seen as Schwarzenegger’s signal to businesses that he is willing to engage on their behalf – and that firms shouldn’t back a suspension.

The governor clearly sees defending AB 32 as a personal priority. On redistricting, he can rely more on Charles T. Munger Jr.

A wealthy Stanford physicist, Munger gave $1.25 million toward Proposition 11, the 2008 initiative that created an independent panel to draw state legislative boundaries. He is backing a new initiative that would extend independent redistricting to congressional seats.

In doing so, Munger apparently triggered a counter-initiative by congressional Democrats that would wipe out both Proposition 11 and the new ballot proposal. To ensure his measure wins, Munger will have to fight the redistricting repeal.

One complication for Schwarzenegger is that some of his past donors have begun contributing against him.

In 2008, Saban gave $200,000 to back Proposition 11. But Saban loaned $2 million this month toward repealing that law. A Saban spokesperson, who did not want to be named, said last week that Saban was discouraged by the lack of diversity on the redistricting panel and does not want to extend the concept to congressional seats.

Schwarzenegger has relied heavily on businesses in his past ballot efforts, but those interests may be conflicted on the AB 32 initiative.

For instance, Occidental Petroleum has given Schwarzenegger and his ballot initiatives more than $600,000 in the past. But the Los Angeles-based company spent $300,000 this month toward suspending AB 32.

“We’re going to support the causes we believe to be beneficial,” said Occidental spokesman Richard Kline. “There are initiatives (Schwarzenegger) has supported that we are proud to support. AB 32 does not happen to be one of them.”

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