Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | March 5, 2005

Don’t work backwards from a pre-set position

Yes, I’m a proudly a liberal, but that’s not a conflict with this statement: I’m giving serious consideration to supporting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballot initiatives.

I dislike much of what Schwarzenegger has done since he announced his campaign to unseat and replace former Gov. Gray Davis.

But that doesn’t mean everything he does is wrong.

Just as Bill Maher – no fan of W, to be sure – often cautions Democrats not to work backwards from their dislike of George W. Bush, I won’t work backwards from my dislike of the “Governator.”

Just because Schwarzenegger has broken campaign promises, can’t seem to understand that businesses are special interests, too, and stoops to name-calling as a means of political discourse, doesn’t mean that every once in a while he can’t have a good idea.

After all, he did marry a Kennedy.

Similarly, I can’t work backwards from my opposition to almost every political position I’ve ever read that Gilroyan Mark Zappa and Morgan Hill resident Ben Gilmore have taken to assume that because they’re supporting Schwarzenegger’s ballot initiatives that I should oppose them.

However, I will admit that the prospect of being on the same side of an issue with them does pain me.

Schwarzenegger is using his considerable popularity to push four reforms: changing how legislative districts are drawn, limiting state spending, capping public employee pensions, and instituting merit pay for teachers.

I need to study the issues and the details of Schwarzenegger’s proposals carefully before I make final decisions, but I can tell you this much: My dislike of Schwarzenegger will not inform my positions on these initiatives.

I watched right-wingers do it when Bill Clinton was president, and I see liberals doing it now that George Bush is in office, but I refuse to be a part of that knee-jerk, non-thinking, political response to proposals.

Two of the reform proposals – redistricting and merit pay – have special relevance in South Valley.

In the redistricting that followed the 2000 census, South Valley’s political clout was split among four congressional districts, two Assembly districts and three state Senate districts.

Legislators like the current redistricting system because it keeps them employed. In the last election, not one of California’s legislative seats changed parties.

There’s no escaping the conclusion that something must be done to fix this system where politicians’ self-interest, not the interest of citizens, reigns supreme.

I don’t know if Schwarzenegger’s idea of using a panel of retired judges to draw districts is the best one to address the gross problems of our current system. It is similar to systems used in several other states. I have no doubt, however, that it will be an improvement over the badly broken current scheme. I’m not hearing any ideas from the folks (legislators) who want the status quo to remain unchanged.

I know the status quo is unacceptable, and lacking any other plans to fix the problem, I’m inclined to support Schwarzenegger’s plan.

We hear echoes of the merit pay debate in the Gilroy Unified School District’s current labor dispute with its teachers union. Teachers are complaining about extra time the new GUSD accountability plan requires. But accountability – identifying teachers whose students learn – is at the heart of merit pay.

Teachers’ most-frequently used argument against merit pay – that you can’t compare teachers with different students – doesn’t cut it for me. If you compare the change in student performance from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, not the absolute values, you should have a fair merit pay system. It doesn’t matter where your students start, it matters that they improved. The better the improvement, the better the teacher, the better the pay. That’s the theory. I need to study Schwarzenegger’s proposal to see if I think his plan will work in practice.

Education is another case where the status quo cannot remain. California’s schools are near the bottom of the national heap. Something must change. Merit pay alone cannot solve the problem, but I’m willing to entertain the idea as one that might be an important step toward helping California’s kids compete successfully in a global economy.

It’s too soon to say where I’ll land on each of the four ballot measures Schwarzenegger is championing. But I know this much: I’m going to give each of them careful consideration, setting aside my dislike of much of the Governor’s political decisions.

For the good of California, I hope every registered voter can do the same.

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