Thursday, September 13, 2007

Schwarzenegger Vetoes Iraq Pullout Bill

The Sacramento Bee reports:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation late Tuesday to ask California voters in an advisory ballot measure if they want to withdraw United States troops from Iraq.

The Democratic-backed bill put the Republican governor in a political bind because a majority of California voters support a withdrawal of some or all troops, but Schwarzenegger has hedged his own answers on the issue and his Republican base opposes withdrawal from Iraq.

"The decision to engage in or withdraw troops from war is a federal issue, not a state issue," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "Placing a non-binding resolution on Iraq on the (presidential primary) ballot, when it carries no weight or authority, would only further divide voters and shift attention from other critical issues that must be addressed."

Senate Bill 924 by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, would have specifically asked voters if President Bush should "end the United States occupation of Iraq and achieve the immediate, complete, safe and orderly withdrawal of United States forces."

With anti-war activists at his side, Perata introduced the proposal in April at the Veterans Memorial Building in Berkeley, the site of what he called "the birthplace of the peace movement."

He cast the nonbinding proposal as a way for California to place political pressure on the Bush administration. But critics charged that Perata was trying to boost Democratic turnout in February to help passage of a change in term-limits law.

The measure might have intertwined with presidential politics because it would have appeared on the same ballot as next year's presidential primary in California.

"I'm disappointed," Perata told reporters early this morning. Perata said he had worked with Schwarzenegger on the issue of global warming, "and I see the war on Iraq in that very same vein."

Senate Bill 924 would have required the secretary of state to send the advisory vote results to President Bush. The legislation cited 3,700 American military deaths, 27,000 injuries, and 70,000 Iraqi civilian casualties among the reasons for seeking the vote. It noted that more than 400 Californians have died and that Iraq war costs have exceeded $350 billion.

SB 924 contained strong political statements critical of President Bush. It declared that despite a growing consensus that the United States should withdraw troops, "the Bush Administration has chosen instead to jeopardize the safety of additional personnel with an ill-conceived 'surge.' "

Most California voters support a removal of U.S. troops from Iraq -- 65 percent said they want to withdraw some or all, according to a Field Poll conducted in August. The survey also found that 58 percent of voters want Congress to set a deadline that would lead to troop withdrawal by spring 2008.

The governor may have tried to minimize negative reaction to his action by delaying his decision until late Tuesday night, shortly before a midnight deadline. At an afternoon press conference, he repeatedly dodged questions about what he would do.

Schwarzenegger had guarded his views on the ballot question ever since Perata announced his intention in April to ask California voters about Iraq. The governor cited polls showing that voters oppose the Iraq war, so he questioned why Perata needed to have an official ballot measure on the matter.

The governor has parsed his own feelings on the Iraq war. He supports a timeline for troop withdrawal, but he also has warned that a public authorization of withdrawal may not be wise because it could send a "signal to the enemy."

Schwarzenegger supported Bush's troop increase earlier this year because he said the United States "should give it everything we have," a position contrary to SB 924's language.

On other controversial issues, the governor has preferred to let the voters guide public policy. He has opposed gay marriage bills because he said the voters decided the issue in a 2000 initiative. He said last year he had no position on legalizing assisted suicide because he thought it was an issue that voters should decide for the state.

Lawmakers sent SB 924 to Schwarzenegger on Aug. 30, giving the governor 12 days to decide on the bill's fate under state law. The Senate action also gave the governor a deadline of Sept. 11, the politically sensitive six-year anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The bill passed through the Democratic-controlled Legislature on a mostly party-line vote. No Republican lawmaker voted for the proposal, while only one moderate Democrat, Assemblywoman Nicole Parra of Hanford, voted against it.

In the Legislature, the governor's own Department of Finance opposed the bill, citing increased costs for printing ballot pamphlets. A legislative analysis estimated the proposal would cost an additional $220,000.