Ex-California Gov. Pete Wilson called an aide to current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at midnight on Oct. 21 about a deal that would mean the collapse of Proposition 66, a measure to limit the state’s three-strikes law, reports the Los Angeles Times. Henry T. Nicholas III, an Orange County billionaire whose sister was killed in 1984, had just promised Wilson a donation of $1.5 million for the campaign to defeat the initiative. That money would allow its opponents to broadcast TV commercials for the first time. “My message on that call was: OK, you’ve got the money, so let’s go,” Wilson said. “This was the cavalry coming over the ridge.” Californians had appeared ready to pass Proposition 66. A Times poll showed it leading 62 percent to 21 percent among registered voters. Two weeks later, after a media blitz financed by Nicholas, Proposition 66 lost, with 53.2 percent of voters against it.
The Times says the story of the turnaround highlights not only the power of money and the volatility of initiative politics, but also the continuing political partnership between the state’s two most recent Republican governors. After the ad money was obtained, “What I basically did was brought everyone together and said, ‘Look, guys … we’ve got to go and communicate to the people,’ ” Schwarzenegger said. Schwarzenegger asked Wilson to get involved. The anti-66 campaign had been kept alive since the spring by the California District Attorneys Association and the state prison guards union, which hired the campaign’s political consultants and paid for focus groups. The governor was visibly moved when he met victims of criminals who might have been released if 66 had passed. “It hit him in the heart,” said Don Sipple, a strategist who makes the governor’s ads.