His approval rating may have plunged as low as the former governor he ousted in a historic recall, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is flying high over Tuesday's passage of Proposition 14 and California's new "top two" primary system.
"This, by the way, is national news," the governor told reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday, where he was joined by pro-Proposition 14 Chamber of Commerce representatives and independent voter advocates.
With the state in chronic fiscal crisis — and a trail of failed tries at changing state government behind him — Schwarzenegger is staking much of his legacy on reshaping elections in California.
Schwarzenegger got Proposition 14 on the ballot as part of a budget deal last year, and raised much of the nearly $5 million supporters spent getting the word out.
"He doesn't have many options. He really has been trying to shape a legacy for seven years. The one thing that bears promise now is something passed by voters," said Jaime Regalado, political analyst at the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.
Schwarzenegger said Proposition 14 will work in tandem with a redistricting overhaul measure he successfully pushed in 2008.
Both, he said, will force politicians to be less beholden to political parties — including his own Republican Party — and more accountable to voters who want lawmakers to negotiate more and adopt strident positions less.
Starting in 2012, the "top two" primary requires that all voters be given one primary ballot with all candidates running in state and congressional races.
Candidates don't have to include party affiliation on a ballot. Only the top two vote-getters are allowed to advance to a general election — even if they are from the same political party.
California's major and minor political parties united against Proposition 14, saying it deprives voters of choices in a general election and will kill off smaller parties.
The parties are considering legal action against Proposition 14. Schwarzenegger said he expected lawsuits to be filed.
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