Audience members could not follow up if their questions were
dodged, and Schwarzenegger refused to appear in a debate with
Gilroy – The first thing Diana Mulleniux noticed when she arrived at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s town hall meeting Monday night was a sea of white faces.
“For an hour I sat in a room of about 20 white males,” said Mulleniux, a Dispatch employee of Mexican heritage. “I was wondering if this was going to be the whole group.”
The crowd for the Walnut Creek event, a 90-minute televised forum to debate the merits of the Republican governor’s “year of reform” package on the Nov. 8 special election ballot, was chosen at random by a Fresno research group.
The governor’s previous town hall forums have been invitation-only appearances that have been carefully organized by his campaign staff. The questioners in Monday’s forum were selected to represent a diversity of political, ethnic and economic backgrounds.
But Mulleniux guessed that she was the only Hispanic female in a group of about 500. She said she was one of just five minorities in the group of 50 people chosen to ask questions of Schwarzenegger and opponents of his measures.
“I think Hispanic people are apathetic,” Mulleniux said. “They’re not very interested in politics. My perception is that Hispanics believe they can’t make a difference.”
And the event was carefully staged. Audience members could not follow up if their questions were dodged, and Schwarzenegger refused to appear in a debate with opponents of his four initiatives, which would redraw legislative boundaries, set a state spending cap, restrict the ability of public employee unions to raise campaign money and make it harder for teachers to get tenure.
That left state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Rose Ann DeMoro of the California Nurses Association to represent the opposition in the first part of the forum.
Schwarzenegger took questions alone in the second half. He said his initiatives were a logical extension of the 2003 recall election that swept him into office.
The governor tangled with two audience members, one who urged changes to Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 voter initiative capping property taxes. Schwarzenegger staunchly defended the measure, which has been blamed for causing massive funding cuts to the state’s public education system.
“It’s a badly written law,” insisted the questioner, the Rev. Phillip Lewis of Oakland.
“That’s your opinion,” Schwarzenegger shot back.
Another questioner, San Jose Democrat Marc Latimer, said Schwarzenegger’s redistricting initiative, Proposition 77, “smells of the same tactics used by Tom DeLay” the former House majority leader who helped redistrict Texas, adding several Republican seats.
“The last time I looked, California is a blue state, not a red one,” Latimer said, raising his voice.
Schwarzenegger said the initiative was intended to return the power of drawing legislative districts to voters. Under the measure, a panel of judges would take the responsibility away from legislators, but voters would have the final say over the map they devised.
“The bottom line here is we want to give the power back to the people,” Schwarzenegger said. “Who is fighting us on that? Not the general public. The politicians.”
Democratic lawmakers and union leaders object to all four of the initiatives that comprise Schwarzenegger’s agenda.
Union leaders are most incensed about Proposition 75, which would require public employee unions to get their members’ written permission before dues could be used for political purposes.
Mulleniux, who is not in a union, asked Schwarzenegger why he doesn’t “want to hear the voice of working people.”
The governor replied that he himself belongs to a union – the Screen Actors Guild.
“The governor answered my question honestly if simplistically,” Mulleniux said. “Can you really compare the Screen Actors Guild to the United Farm Workers? I do feel the event educated me immensely and made me more aware of the propositions on the table.”