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Nov 05, 2004 - 01:00 AM
by STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press Writer
Business lobby still has Schwarzenegger to help maintain cloutSACRAMENTO -- The California Chamber of Commerce and its allies failed to put a dent in the Democrats' big majorities in the Legislature on Tuesday, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll wield less clout at the Capitol. They still have the Terminator.
"They have a governor who leaps when they say jump," said Rico Mastrodonato, Northern California director for the League of Conservation Voters. "Having a governor like Schwarzenegger is one of the most powerful tools the business community has to leverage their agenda."
JOBS PAC, the campaign arm of the chamber and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, spent $2 million in this year's elections, mainly in efforts to knock off a half dozen Democrats running for the Assembly.
They succeeded only in defeating Dennis Hayashi, a former director of the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, in the March primary.
That, said chamber president Allan Zaremberg, is due more to how lawmakers drew district lines after the 2000 census than to the appeal of the chamber's arguments. "They don't call them safe districts for nothing," he said. "They're pretty much guaranteed for the party they're drawn up for."
Democrats ended up winning the same number of seats they had going into the election - 48 of the Assembly's 80 seats and 25 of 40 in the Senate.
"If they threw a little more money, maybe I would have won by 20 points," said Lori Saldana, a community college teacher who defeated former Republican Assemblywoman Tricia Hunter in a San Diego area race, despite more than $444,000 in spending by JOBS PAC.
"They called me an extremist soft on immigration, which is a federal issue, and (accused me of) promoting all sorts of things that were documented through
half quotes," Saldana said. "I credit a very smart electorate in my district with seeing through the hype and recognizing what I have already been doing for this community."
She said she would "work with anyone committed to solving the problems facing California" but that the chamber lost some credibility "if they're concerned about being inclusive."
Alberto Torrico, a "pro-jobs Democrat" and Newark city councilman who defeated Hayashi in the primary, said he wouldn't blame the Democrats who were targeted by JOBS PAC if they "weren't receptive to the chamber's requests or issues."
"When they come in so heavy, that makes people take notice. When they come in heavy and negative that makes people take notice," he said.
Zaremberg said he didn't know if the election would cost the business lobby some clout, but he said lawmakers should consider the chamber's success in its campaigns for Proposition 64 and against Proposition 72.
Proposition 64 limits use of unfair competition lawsuits against businesses. Proposition 72 would have required employers with at least 50 workers to help provide health insurance for their employees.
"I hope the votes on the propositions indicate to the Legislature that the public is in favor of a strong economy, in favor of a strong business climate," he said. "There's probably no greater manifestation of that than in the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger."
But Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said the election results would give lawmakers less reason to fear the chamber.
"I don't think they have that much clout now," he said. "They're lucky enough to have the governor with them. That's where their currency is limited to in the Capitol."
Schwarzenegger may have lost some influence himself because of his failure to defeat any Democrats in swing districts, despite extensive campaigning for several Republican candidates.
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton said Democrats no longer have any reason to fear Schwarzenegger's ability to sway voters.
"His charm machine may have to get going into overtime for a while," Sen. Jackie Speier, D-Daly City, a co-author of Proposition 72, said of the governor.
But Gino DiCaro, a spokesman for the Manufacturers and Technology Association, contended the election results, which included several victories for Schwarzenegger on ballot measures, would increase the governor's clout.
DiCaro said the association was hoping to "make inroads next year with the governor's help" on issues like reinstatement of an investment tax credit for manufacturers.
"Do I think (the election) will dampen our ability to get somewhere next year? No," he added.
Doug Heller, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica based consumer group, said he feared lawmakers would believe Schwarzenegger and the chamber's interpretation of the election results.
"Politicians often buy whatever baloney is out there and Schwarzenegger is the chief baloney manufacturer of the state," he said.
Even if business groups can't get their bills through the Legislature, they can probably count on Schwarzenegger to veto most of the ones they oppose. He struck down 32 bills opposed by the chamber this year, including measures to raise the minimum wage, help Californians buy cheaper prescriptions from Canadian pharmacies and limit outsourcing of jobs.
He also signed six bills opposed by the chamber and vetoed two the chamber supported.
Spokesman Vince Sollitto said the Republican governor "sets his own agenda" but that improving the state's business climate is one of his top goals.
"Through it all, the governor does what he believes is in the best interest of California," he said. "To the degree other groups share those goals they will see them realized."
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