Two days after suffering a stinging election defeat, a conciliatory Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took responsibility for the failure of his initiatives and said he learned that he needs more patience in seeking government reform.
"The buck stops with me," he told reporters Thursday during a Capitol news conference, referring to the clean sweep against his proposals in Tuesday's special election. "I take full responsibility for this election. I take full responsibility for its failure."
California voters rejected each of the initiatives Schwarzenegger was pushing on the special election ballot. He sought to implement state spending limits and give the governor authority to make midyear budget cuts, change the way legislative districts are drawn, lengthen the probationary period for teachers and restrict the ability of public employee unions to raise money for political campaigns.
Asked if there was anything he would do differently, Schwarzenegger said, "If I was to make another Terminator movie, I would tell Terminator to travel back in time to tell Arnold not to have another special election."
Voters also rejected unrelated measures on abortion, prescription drugs and California's energy market.
"I operate with a different mentality," Schwarzenegger said, saying he will seek to be more patient with legislators. "`I think I recognize that now more so than I did before.
"The people said, 'Initiatives are fine, but you know, go and work it out with the legislators,"' he said. "It was the law of supply and demand: There was plenty of supply of initiatives, but not the demand."
The governor's statements to reporters came after he had summoned the top legislative leaders from both parties to his office. The Democratic leaders said the Republican governor had promised to work with them on education, transportation and other problems facing California.
"Everybody understands that we've got to put down the boxing gloves and ... get some stuff done," Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez said after the 37-minute meeting.
Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata characterized the gathering as a nice day-after meeting.
"There was not a discordant word spoken. Everybody is saying we want to get together."
The tone in the meeting was a sharp change from the pre-election battles between the Republican governor and his Democratic opponents, who accused Schwarzenegger of trying to ram through ballot measures that would give him more power, punish his union critics and give Republicans more seats in the Legislature and California's congressional delegation.
The legislative leaders said they didn't discuss specifics on how to improve schools, solve the state's transportation problems or deal with other issues facing the state.
But Nunez said he thought Schwarzenegger, who will be running for re-election next year, "heard the message loud and clear Tuesday night." The governor, he said, talked like the candidate who won the 2003 recall election with a pledge to work in a bipartisan fashion in Sacramento.
"That's a very positive sign," Nunez added.
Republican Assembly Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the governor and legislative leaders also discussed putting together legislation that would take redistricting duties away from the Legislature, despite the defeat of Proposition 77. That measure, soundly defeated by voters, was the governor's plan to give redistricting powers to a panel of retired judges and draw new districts for 2006 elections.
"I think the sooner we get it done the better off we are, the greater trust the public will have," McCarthy said.
Schwarzenegger said that Proposition 77 would have eliminated the conflict of interest created by having lawmakers draw their own districts. He complained that districts drawn by the Legislature after the 2000 census were designed to protect incumbents in both parties.
By Juliet Williams