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 eying 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 percent unemployment 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.
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