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The Los Angeles Times
Nov 04, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by Marc Lifsher, Times Staff Writer

State's Businesses Are Given a Lift by Voters;

Companies, with the governor's help, win on referendums about health insurance and limits on lawsuits.
Business, thanks to a boost from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, got most of what it wanted from California voters on election day.

The state's corporate community prevailed on its two big-ticket items:

* Proposition 64 , an initiative limiting lawsuits by private individuals against businesses, was approved by voters after companies large and small helped finance a statewide Yes on 64 campaign.

* Proposition 72, a referendum on a law that would have forced medium-sized and large employers to provide health insurance to workers, was defeated with the help of business coalitions.

Schwarzenegger was a high-profile presence in both campaigns and a key in swaying voters, said Michael Schmitz, a lobbyist for the California League for Environmental Enforcement Now, which opposed Proposition 64.

"There's little argument that the governor's role in this was nothing less than decisive," he said. "What you have is a tremendously popular governor with movie star appeal who had an impact."

Schwarzenegger's support for business at the ballot box underscores his overriding political philosophy: What's good for business is good for California.

"I want to create more jobs. This is why it's so important that we bring businesses back," he said at a post-election news conference Wednesday. "It's important to make it a really business-friendly environment here."

For Charlie Woo, chief executive of Megatoys, a toy importer and manufacturer in downtown Los Angeles, Schwarzenegger's pro-jobs agenda means that "the business community is finally getting heard" in Sacramento. Woo said he would have shifted about 300 peak seasonal jobs overseas if Proposition 72 had been approved.

Schwarzenegger's decision to jump into the fray on Propositions 64 and 72, his earlier pressure on the Democratic-controlled Legislature to overhaul workers' compensation insurance laws and his vetoing of several bills described by lobbyists as anti-business have provided an important defense to employers, said Jeff Kavin, the general manager and co-owner of Greenblatt's Deli, a
family-owned eatery in Hollywood.

"We have a Legislature which is openly hostile to the small-business community," he said, "and the governor is the only thing between us and disaster."

Schwarzenegger's emphasis on job creation, which has been consistent from the start of his campaign through this year's election, has resonated with both business groups and voters, said Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce: "The voters are in sync with the governor in trying to improve the job climate."

Tuesday's television network exit polls -- with 59% of voters describing the California economy as poor or not so good -- showed that people "really do not want to do damage" to the business climate, said Mark DiCamillo, political director of the California Poll.

But pushing an agenda based on protecting jobs and fostering a healthy economy doesn't mean business should stop looking for ways to provide healthcare to the state's growing numbers of uninsured, said Bob McAdam, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. The retailer, which does not provide health insurance for all its employees, became a target for criticism from the pro-Proposition 72 campaign.

Tuesday's vote, McAdam said, "was about whether the people feel comfortable with the kind of government-driven plan that was being called for."

Many businesses also cheered the rejection of Proposition 67, a surcharge on telephone bills to finance emergency medical care, and welcomed passage of Proposition 71, which directs the state to borrow $3 billion to sponsor stem cell medical research.

But they were unable to weaken the Democrats' hold on the Legislature. Although Schwarzenegger campaigned for fellow Republicans in several key Assembly and Senate races around the state, the Democrats maintained their majorities in both houses.

And consumer activists were far from pleased with business' success at the polls this week. In particular, the expensive campaign in favor of Proposition 64 raised concerns that industry could simply buy the business climate it wants in California.

"This shows that $15 million can deceive the public into taking away its own rights," said Jamie Court of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "This was portrayed as a small-business initiative that made a simple change. In fact, it's going to help big business."
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Times staff writers Peter Nicholas, Jordan Rau, Julie Tamaki and Leslie Earnest contributed to this report.




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