Schwarzenegger rejects California vote on Iraq war

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill on Wednesday that would have allowed Californians to vote on whether they favor an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Polls have shown most Californians support withdrawing some or all troops from Iraq but the result would have been only symbolic, with no direct affect on the contribution by the country’s most populous state to the war.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, a Democrat, backed the measure as a way to express public opinion short of taking to the streets in protest as many Californians did during the Vietnam War.

“Public opinion polls have confirmed again and again that Californians are sharply divided, as are all Americans, as to when and how our troops should be withdrawn,” Schwarzenegger said in his veto message on Wednesday. “We do not need an advisory ballot to understand this deep divide.

“The decision to engage in or withdraw troops from war is a federal issue, not a state issue.”

California has a long tradition of state initiatives and referenda in which voters express their preferences on public policy issues. The Iraq war measure would have appeared on the February ballot when Californians vote in the 2008 presidential primary.

“There is no louder message Californians can send to Washington on the Iraq war than who should lead our nation,” said Schwarzenegger, a Republican who in the past has expressed support for the war. “Placing a nonbinding resolution on Iraq on the same ballot, when it carries no weight or authority, would only further divide voters and shift attention from other critical issues that must be addressed.”

A Field Poll last month found that nearly two-thirds of Californians support either fully or partially withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq.

State Democrats criticized Schwarzenegger’s veto.

“Even as General (David) Petraeus presents statistics this week that have raised more questions than answers about progress in Iraq, Schwarzenegger has ignored that message and effectively muzzled California voters,” California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres said in a statement.

“The Republican Party must stop looking at this war through rose-colored glasses.”

Perata has said his measure would have sent a strong message. “With the possible exception of George Bush, we all know it’s time to go,” he said earlier this year. “If the biggest state in the nation says ‘end the war now,’ maybe it will start to sink in.”