TOP DEMOCRATS JOIN FIGHT AGAINST DAVIS RECALL
by Ron Kenner
American Reporter Correspondent
LOS ANGELES, July 17, 2003 -- With the stage set to shift the political focus this time from Florida to California - and fireworks with immense implications for the next presidential campaign ready to explode - top Democrats came out swinging yesterday in a major push to help California's Governor Gray Davis in survive a multimillion dollar recall election that seems all but certain to qualify for the ballot.
Adding luster to the recall effort are a group of GOP, gubernatorial hopefuls, including recall backer Rep. Darrell Issa, a multimillionaire Congressman who reportedly has a criminal record, "Terminator" star Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Simon - the wealthy businessman who ran unsuccessfully against Davis last year - along with conservative State Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks and the wealthy former Mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan, who said he will not run if Schwarzenegger is a candidate. Schwarzenegger has not yet announce his candidacy.
And today, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters suggestted that under one interpretation of conflicting lines in the State Constitution and its election code, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the state's highest-ranking elected Latino, could declare himself the sole replacement for Davis. And the Democratic party is already mulling a lawsuit over petition circulators, who under a state law are required to be California voters. The collectors may have included some non-Californians, but Republicans argue that the same requirement in other recall elections was declared unconstituional gby the Calikfornia Supreme Court.
Uner the recall process in California, voters will be asked two questions: first, is whether to support or oppose the Davis recall, and second, who should replacement him. A similar recall process is in place in about a third of states.
"It seems clear that there could be a vote coming up soon - November, maybe March," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe told reporters Thursday at a press conference called by the DNC at the Ronald Reagan State Office Building in downtown Los Angeles. Recall proponents are hoping for the earlier vote; opponents are hoping for a later one, allowing more time for Davis to gain strength and more pro-Davis minority voters in the March Democratic presidential primary.
Publicly, the Democratic leadership is promising full support and its biggest guns, but isn't quite ready to admit the certainty of the recall election. As in Florida's prior presidential elections, there are legal challenges pending along with claims of widespread fraudulent signatures on the recall petitions. Some democrats have charged the recall movement with bringing in convicted felons to gather signatures. At the other end of the debate, according to the respected Contra Costa Times, a survey of country voter registrars shows that the petitions are being validated at a rate of 85 percent - much higher than most nominating petitions, which typically have only 50-60 percent validity.
In an early setback for the Davis forces, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carl J. West Wednesday delayed until August 8 a hearing on an injunction to immediately cease counting signatures brought in by out-of-state residents. Davis supporters were hoping the judge would hear the matter before the state's deadline for scheduling a recall vote.
"I'm not convinced the sky is falling," West told Davis lawyers in rejecting an earlier date.
The current recall effort follows a string of some 30 recall efforts against sitting governors in California - all of which failed. But this effort seems unique, adding a cliffhanger quality to the battle. Davis opponents were happy the ruling allowed signature counting to continue, and for them, for the most part, the sky is indeed falling for the governor. Recall organizers this week turned in the final batch of petitions, claiming some 1.68 million signatures, nearly double the number required.
Backers of the recall also point to a recent Los Angeles Times poll showing that Davis' approval rating among voters has dropped to 22 percent. That's a long way down from his 47 percent plurality in November. For the first time, the Times reported, "a majority (51 percent) of those questioned told the Times they supported the recall."
The 1.6 million signatures collected are nearly matched dollar-for-dollar by personal spending for the recall by the Rep. Issa, a San Diego Republican and multimillionaire manufacturer of car alarms who is the leader of the recall campaign and so far the only announced GOP candidate.
McAuliffe, along with state party spokesman and consultant Bob Mulholland, and Dan Terry, chairman of Taxpayers Against the Governor's Recall, told reporters Thursday that they were solidly behind Davis U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein and other leading Democrats have announced they would not run to replace Davis.
"There will be no Democrat on the ticket," McAuliffe emphasized. As soon as this becomes apparent, he added, many who support the recall may suddenly "take on a different perspective." This would be especially so, Mulholland told the American Reporter, when voters imagine Rep. Issa as a governor.
"This is a guy who has a string of prison tattoos" on his arm, Mulholland said.
A press kit handed out by Demo leaders to reporters Thursday in Los Angeles included a same day article by the San Francisco Chronicle revealing details of an arrest of Issa in 1972 on charges of carrying a loaded semiautomatic pistol and 44 bullets. The reporter, Lance Williams, noted that Issa was booked on a felony but the charges were changed to a misdemeanor after a plea bargain. The article and Democratic leaders point to other arrests and alleged criminal activities.
As for "no Democrats," though, McAuliffe may not have taken into account that any contender who wants to place his or her name on the ballot has only to pay $3,500 and collect 30 signatures to do so, and any person's name can be written in on a blank line by California voters, so there will almost certainly be some Democratic also-rans - just not prominent ones.
Democrats say that the California governor's popularity fell inversely to the rise in energy costs - and California's resulting budget $38 billion deficit - brought about by illegal tactics of firms that largely supported Republicans. The California deficit is anticipated to be greater than those of all other states combined, andin the recent Los Angeles Times poll was cited by likely voters as the state's greatest problem. As McAuliffe, Mulholland and others repeatedly emphasized, however, some 47 state governors have built up large deficits and President George Bush is facing a national $400 billion deficit.
But the deficit and the lack of a state budget aren't helping Davis much, and the suspense builds.
"The real tragedy," California Senator Diane Feinstein said, was that Davis was elected with 47 percent of the vote. Yet, she adds, given the California recall process and possible fragmentation of votes among candidates, a new governor can be elected with only 19 percent of the vote.
Undoubtedly there are challenges to come, Mulholland told the American Reporter, "but nobody really knows yet how it will all end up."
American Reporter Correspondent Ron Kenner is the author of several books and a former Metro reporter for the Los Angeles Times. He currently operates a book editing service at http://www.rkedit.com.