Prison Guard Union Launches Recall of Governor Schwarzenegger

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A recall election made Arnold Schwarzenegger the Governor of California. Now the state's prison guard union is launching a recall effort to get rid of him. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which represents guards at the state's 33 prisons, plans to gather enough signatures to put a recall on the ballot. The prison guards union blames Schwarzenegger for the state $15 billion deficit and for the ongoing budget impasse. But as KPCC's Julie Small reports, there's little chance voters will kick Arnie out.

Julie Small: The California Correctional Peace Officers Association says it's time for the "Terminator"-turned-governor to go.

Lance Corcoran: We love him. We just really want him to go back to making movies.

Small: The Association's Lance Corcoran faults the Governor for driving California into a fiscal crisis and failing to negotiate a budget bill. The prison guards are also unhappy with the governor's order to freeze overtime pay for state employees until the budget bill's done. The Association's Lance Corcoran also blames the governor for failing to reach a contract agreement with prison guards for nearly two years while prison violence and overcrowding persists.

Corcoran: This guy, this poser, is asking for reform and rehabilitation. He has completely disenfranchised the labor force that's actually trying to effect his change!

Small: Governor Schwarzenegger dismissed the Association's recall challenge as a union tactic to get him to agree to pay raises for prison guards.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: I will not be intimidated by anybody that is demanding more money than the state can afford and demands deals more than the state is wanting to give.

Small: Political analyst Barbara O'Connor agrees.

Barbara O'Connor: It's "Mayberry Machiavelli." (laughs) I mean, I really think it's a direct power play.

Small: O'Connor, with Sacramento State's Institute for the Study of Politics and Media, says prison guards have every reason to want Schwarzenegger out; he's opposed their demands for more pay.

O'Connor: But in terms of timing, diverting anyone's attention to a recall effort without a budget is just stupid.

Small: O'Connor says the public will also think it's expensive. While the prison guards union has the millions of dollars it'll cost to get enough signatures to put the recall on the ballot, it won't be able to pull it off in time for the November election. Tracy Westen with the non-partisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles says that would require a special election.

Tracy Westen: And at a time when we have a budget crisis and we're trying to figure out how to pay the state's bills, I don't think the public would be that enthusiastic about tacking another election onto the cost of the budget.

Small: Westen doubts that voters blame the governor for the budget impasse, nor they should they. He says the impasse is structural; California requires a two-thirds majority vote by lawmakers to pass the state budget. That's allowed Republican legislators who are in the minority to wield budget power by withholding their votes. But Westen also says Schwarzenegger hasn't exerted much influence in his own party.

Westen: He has been more of an independent governor. That is to say, he's not necessarily followed the Republican line, and as a result, the Republican legislators don't fully trust him, and because he's a Republican, the Democrats don't fully trust him.

Small: That independence, what Schwarzenegger calls "post-partisanship," is what many California voters like about Schwarzenegger. But Tracy Westen with the Center for Governmental Studies says, in the world of politics, the way to get votes for the bills you want is to support the bills that other people want. But Westen says Schwarzenegger hasn't done enough of that kind of horse-trading to be able to corral support at budget time.