DAVIS RECALL PETITIONS WIN NEW ELECTION
by Joe Shea
American Reporter ZCorrespondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
BRADENTON, Fla., July 23, 2003 -- Democratic political honchos were laughing just months ago when asked whether the quixotic campaign to recall California's two-term Gov. Gray Davis had any chance of succeeding; like children, they often laugh when they are afraid. Today, California Democrats are very, very afraid; the state's voters may well elect a Republican governor in a recall election that is set for Oct. 7.
California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announced Wednesday night that county voter registrars around the state had certified a total of 1.3 million signatures for the recall, far more than needed for a new election less than a year after Davis beat a political newcomer by a slim five percentage points last November.
The race has attracted two prominent Repubilicans, including U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a onetime car thief who became a millionaire selling auto burglar alarms, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the muscled and durable star of the Terminator movies who is married to Maria Shriver, the anchorwoman daughter of Democratic icon Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps and friend of President John F. Kennedy.
No top Democrats have indicated they will seek the job, but there is little doubt that some lesser-known Democrats will. Candidates have only to be California residents of voting age who can pay $3,500 to get their name on the ballot (indigent candidates can get on for free). They will be running alongside two or more heavyweights, Davis and Rep. Issa, but the odd and nearly unique form of the two-part ballot questions makes for anyone to win.
Fueled by Rep. Issa's contribution of $1,700,000 to the recall effort, the petition gathering quickly moved from a longshot - 23 California governors have been the object of recall campaigns, all of which failed to reach the ballot - to inevitablity. Legal obstacles thrown up by the Givernor's lawyers have been tossed aside like kindling by state courts.
Many Californians blame the governor for failing to act decisively when his generous supporters from the utilty and energy industries began to run away with the state's record-busting $10 billion surplus in 2001. By late 2002, after a summer of blackouts and signs that the surplus had turned into a deficit, Davis' ratings began to fall. In recent months, as polls showed some 22 percent of voters thought Davis was doing a good job, the deficit has widened to a budget-busting $38 billion, a sum far and away the largest ever faced by any state in American history.
Even after telling the American Reporter last fall that plans were underway to recover some $9 billion from utilities and energy traders who soaked the state, the state got not a refund but a bill for another billion dollars from a state court.
During a televised debate with businessman and political novice Bill Simon, son of the former Treasury Secretary William Simon, Davis complained that the state had been "bilked of $21 billion." Davis balked at repeating that statement, but the entire state was wondering by then what Davis was doing while it happened. In reality, the governor spent a minimum of 50 hours a week on the energy problem alone, and often much more, during the three-month height of that crisis.
Davis also angered many of the state's important Hispanic voters when he ordered that no driver's licenses be renewed for undocumented aliens without a criminal record check, but allowed other marginalized residents to obtain them with the background investigation.
The most galling issue for many voters is a tripling of the state's already-high vehicle registration fees, instituted just as the recall petition-gathering effort was gaining steam. The anger proved a formidable force for signature collectors, who were ubiquitous at public markets and outdoor events since early Spring.
One fly in the ointment is that Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante says that he is not given the authority under the State Constitution or the Elections Code to hold an election for a replacement for Davis should the recall forces prevail at an election that may be held in late October. If he finds support for that position, Bustamante will become governor when the election results are certified, and the state's Democratic leaders may be laughing once again, perhaps with a Spanish accent. [Note: Bustamante ultimately took the advice of state lawyers and called for a simultaneous recall election.]
Joe Shea is a longtime California resident who is currenly in Florida.