Arnold Schwarzenegger swept to victory in the California gubernatorial election, easily beating Phil Angelides, his Democrat challenger, and promising to continue governing from the centre ground.
After a disastrous defeat in a series of special elections last year, a contrite Mr Schwarzenegger has spent the last 12 months building bridges with Democrats in the California legislature to push through new policies, such as the state’s landmark global warming bill.
The move to the centre was a big hit with California’s electorate, which overwhelmingly backed the former movie star in Tuesday’s vote.
“I really like doing sequels,” he said, after Mr Angelides had called him to concede defeat. “Tonight I believe the people have given us a mandate. Not a mandate for me, not a mandate for any specific party, but a mandate to move the state ahead. A mandate for leadership. A mandate to build a better and brighter future for California. And that is exactly what we are going to do in the next four years.”
Early returns also suggested voters had backed Mr Schwarzenegger’s ambitious borrowing plans to raise more than $37bn to fund redevelopment of California’s crumbling levees, schools and roads by issuing bonds. The plans, jointly backed by Mr Schwarzenegger and Democrats in the state legislature, were laid out in a series of special propositions included in Tuesday’s ballot.
Fabian Nuñez, speaker of the California state assembly, said: “When the legislature and the governor work together to solve people’s problems, the voters stand with us. This is a huge investment in California’s future. It will continue to give California the competitive edge.”
Other ballot propositions were less successful, however. Proposition 87, which sought to raise money for research into alternative fuels by taxing California’s oil companies, was heading for defeat on Wednesday, according to early poll returns.
This was despite the backing of heavyweight figures such as former President Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore. The campaign had been funded by Steve Bing, the heir to a real estate fortune, who spent more than $40m of his own money on television commercials supporting the proposal.
The oil industry, which fought the measure, spent almost $100m in campaign ads attacking the plans, claiming they would trigger other taxes.
Professor Daniel Kammen, professor in the energy and resources group at Berkeley University and a supporter of Proposition 87, said it was “impossible to compete against that kind of money”.
He added the proposition’s backers had failed to make a clear economic case for introducing the new taxes.
“The economics are complicated. When you say it’s a tax on oil [and not a tax on consumers] it requires more than just saying it. That single point, that prices would not have been passed on to consumers, was never made sufficiently clear.”
Plans to increase taxes on cigarettes also looked to have been thwarted, according to early returns from Tuesday’s election.
Proposition 86 sought to raise money for healthcare through a four-fold increase in taxes on a packet of cigarettes. The tobacco industry campaigned vigorously against the measure, running a series of television commercials and claiming that only a fraction of the money raised would be spent on health care, with the rest being swallowed up by bureaucracy.