With Enemies Like These….


When Maureen Dowd and Bill Safire both agree that California?s recall election is foolish, maybe that?s a good time to probe its merits. The Sacramento Bee?s Daniel Weintraub has a ringing message for the elites who dismiss the Golden State?s spastic exercise in direct democracy:

[T]he recall threatens to unlock the rooms in which California's power brokers have increasingly kept government and politics hostage, their own private game to which the public was neither invited nor welcome.

It's old news that you have to pay to play in Sacramento, especially in the governor's office. But fewer people have focused on the fact that elections themselves have been rigged to keep the public out. Legislative districts are drawn to discourage competition, and statewide races are run in ways designed to offend, and depress, all but the most committed voters. It's all a plot to keep the electorate under control, to ensure that results can be manipulated and predicted with scientific precision based on polling, focus groups and past results.

Not this time.

One of the close-the-barn-door criticisms of the Oct. 7 vote is that it could foreshadow a future of endless tit-for-tat recall elections; a related one (mouthed daily by Singapore Gray Davis) is that a handful of sinister rich Republicans are hijacking California?s political system. It is worth noting, in response, that the state has had an unpopular governor or two over the last 92 years (Jerry Brown, anyone?), and has been known to harbor the occasional cajillionaire Republican ? yet never before has a gubernatorial recall been ordered. As Weintraub says, ?let?s have the election, and quit whining about it.?

NEXT: The Only Other Recalled Governor

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  1. Andy says, “Zathrus, what does it matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat who wins the recall race? They’re not all that different…”

    Hear hear! Remember that electricity “deregulation” was passed UNANIMOUSLY in the California legislature, then gleefully signed by the GOP governor of the time. Neither partisan politics nor differences in philosophy helped “our leaders” see through and oppose an idiot scheme that has helped to beggar our state. California could not have been so crippled by the Enrons of the world, if its state government did not have the power to rope us all into a stupid plan.

    Mudflap says, “Sacramento has plenty of money. It?s just in the hands of idiots that have no fiscal responsibility.” This is true. Davis’ own budget documents show that the trend in actual tax receipts has steadily risen since the late 1990s, about twice as fast as the trend in population growth. Davis expected our state to pull in $15B more this year than in 1998, for instance. But thanks to bubble-brains in Sacramento, we have spent and committed to spend FAR more than this hefty increase in state income.

    As far as I have been able to tell, our much ballyhooed “crisis” has come from spendthrift mentality and poor fiscal management, nothing else. Nobody can tell me that we had too little government in 1998, but even if so, the state has consistently pulled in at least twice as much ADDITIONAL money as we would normally expect to get from our population increases since then. That should have funded enough growth in government too keep the “progressives” happy (but apparently not). And of course, there was the incredible windfall of the dot-com boom/bubble years. It’s all gone now and we’re heavily in debt. This becomes immediately apparent to anyone who merely scratches the surface of the “crisis.” Any wonder that the recall effort is so broad and deep?

  2. Oops, missed a zero on my first post. Should be $125,000

  3. It’s unlikely a strong Libertarian Party candidate would split the Republican vote — this is republican fantasy that they are the party of less government or something. The last big Gov. candidate on the LP ticket — ED Thompson of Wisconsin who got 11% of the vote in 2002 took more votes from Democrats exit polling found — but most his votes came from registered independents — most strong third party candidates take most their votes from independents and people who vote more on candidate than blind party worship — a strong LP candidate would have to turn out large numbers of non-voters and registered independents to win or come close — the republicans will still cry about taking ‘their’ vote regardless — An LP candidate running on less government, lower taxes, private education vouchers, etc. maybe — a candidate running on drug legalization, ending corporate welfare, pro-civil liberties — no way.

    Whether the LP can muster a strong candidate this year in such a huge state like CA is another question entirely. As a CA resident, CA really needs to be broken up into atleast two states, north and south (‘we want two states, theres no culture, theres no spies’ Pavement). I’d prefer this was done without civil war, but que sera sera. I certainly hope LP can muster a good candidate and rock the vote, that would be sweet.


  4. Since 1911, there have been 31 attempts to recall the governor in Marz-o-fornia, none of them successful. Maybe there will be alot of recalls, maybe not. I think not. Let the power fall; everyone hates Davis. The government of Caliphonia constitution allows for recall of the governor, so what’s the problem?
    For Republicans, its more of a popularity contest than usual, so I direct your attention to who Arnie should support, if he’s inded out of the race. You’ll find it in this article from the Amrican Prowler,
    One promising development is Tom McClintock’s announcement to San Francisco broadcasters Lee Rodgers and Melanie Morgan that he will run in the recall election. He is the most credible and principled of the Republicans considered for the race. Known as a budget hawk — precisely what the state needs at the moment — state senator McClintock was the one bright spot in the Republicans’ dismal showing last year. Though badly outspent by his multimillionaire opponent, McClintock came within a hair of becoming the state’s controller.
    Thanks for the tip, George Neumayr

  5. Republicans may not be the party of smaller government, but there are plenty of Republicans in California who think that they ought to be. If you are right and the Libertarians cannot unite behind a strong candidate they will not take that many votes away from the leading Republican, but a strong (or at least presentable) Libertarian in a race that featured several Republicans sniping at each other just might. Especially since the Gray Davis attack machine would most likely be directed elsewhere.

  6. Mudflap, it isn’t irresponsible to spend money that, to the best of your knowledge, you can afford. California wasn’t “irresponsible,” they were duped by some of the most respected economic analysts in America.

  7. joe – if they assumed that a bull market was going to last forever, and if they didn’t stash away some cash for a rainy day, I would say that they were irresponsible in ol’ CA. Of course, part of it is not the pols’ fault. In CA, they vote for an awful lot of line item funding initiatives, which makes it much more difficult to curtail spending.

  8. The pundits are making BIG mistakes on this one. Although the recall was perhaps instigated and encouraged by GOP and GOP-leaning types, don’t forget that the Libertarian Party was the first party to publicly endorse the recall, and that well over TWO MILLION SIGNATURES (according to the recall organizers) were presented to the state for verification. (This was around half the number of people who voted for Davis in 2002.) The ringleaders of the recall did not so much stage a coup, as they tapped into a rich vein of discontent that crosses all boundaries of party, ethnicity, social status, financial wherewithal, etc. This movement has the most grassy roots since Prop. 13.

    I am already beginning to see local news stories about how hard it is going to be for local county elections departments to handle the large number of candidates on the ballot. There is a real perception that this could be a true “people’s election,” with the important and disturbing caveat that a very small number of voters could swing a plurality for a “scary” candidate. Even if, say, a mainstream pol like McClintock wins, you KNOW that both the Demos and GOP alike will fairly rush to close the barn door and ensure that nothing like this can EVER happen again. Which will only go to show how much of a death grip the two parties have on our system, and how highly the deck is stacked against the third parties and independents.

    As far as I know at the moment, there will be at least two Libertarian candidates on the ballot for sure, with a third fairly likely, and who knows how many others tossing their hats in the ring between now and the August 9th filing deadline. A very interesting libertarian candidate is Ned Roscoe, president of Cigarettes Cheaper!, who hopes to tap into the discontent of oppressed smokers in this state. If he can establish himself as a serious and credible candidate, he at least has a theoretical shot, as there are slightly more adult smokers in the state than voted for Davis in the last election. If Roscoe can a bring a goodly number of those people to the polls to vote for him, he could get a plurality, given the number of candidates and assuming this election draws a similar number of voters as the 2002 election.

    Roscoe is no stranger to smoker-related political campaigns. The Roscoe family was defeated twice: first, when they opposed the Rob Reiner-backed Prop. 10 that established a 50-cent/pack surtax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, and when they tried to overturn the tax with a subsequent proposition. On the other hand, smokers have had a bit longer to seethe, and non-smokers have had a while to realize that Prop. 10 money isn’t going to good deeds, but rather to the California budget shell game, not to mention the personal aggrandizement of Rob Reiner, all at the expense of poor, addicted smokers. Perhaps October’s results will demonstrate a change of heart on the part of smokers as well as those who were formerly happy to demonize them. It will be interesting to watch.

    Finally, I am convinced that if Schwarzenegger would only run, he would win. If he is going to take himself out of the running this time around, with the mercifully brief political season that this special election will entail, I can’t imagine that Maria Shriver would ever sit still for him to participate in the much longer and more grueling political circus of a regular gubernatorial campaign. I have to suspect that Schwarzenegger either isn’t really serious about this particular office, or someone — maybe the Davis camp? — has something on him that is particularly damaging. I don’t think Arnold will ever get a better shot at achieving high office while sparing his family election-season foolishness, and I think he and his wife are smart enough to know that. So why bow out, I wonder. Don’t get me wrong. If Arnold is out, then there is at least some hope for the Libertarians. But I can’t help but wonder why…

  9. “It’s unlikely a strong Libertarian Party candidate would split the Republican vote — this is republican fantasy that they are the party of less government or something.”

    Don’t laugh; it’s happened before. I pulled that off myself in 1992, when I ran for State Assembly (77th Dist.) on the LP ticket, garnered 6% of the vote, and helped a Democrat win on a narrow plurality in what should have been a “safe” Republican district. This made for a great attention-getting stunt for the LP, but it didn’t exactly advance libertarian interests overall. I suspect the LP knew this, and it was for that reason that they ran no candidate in that district in 1994.

    You are probably right that a similar split at the state level is an unrealistic fantasy. However, the fantasy has nothing to do with Tweedledum Theory and everything to do with the fact that very few voters vote Libertarian in statewide elections.

  10. Does the recall mechanism only apply to the executive branch, or does it apply also to the legislative and judicial branches? I’m not a Californian, so I’m out of the loop on this one. Seems to me that political dishonesty, or more appropriately “representative ineptitude”, cuts across all three branches equally, so the mechanism shouldn’t apply only to one.

  11. “a future of endless tit-for-tat recall elections”

    Hmm. Bug or feature?

  12. Russ D asks, “Does the recall mechanism only apply to the executive branch, or does it apply also to the legislative and judicial branches? I’m not a Californian, so I’m out of the loop on this one.”

    As a Californian, I am happy to answer your question, but all you really need to find the answer is the internet: From the California constitution (http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/const.html), Article II, Section 14:

    ” (b) A petition to recall a statewide officer must be signed by electors equal in number to 12 percent of the last vote for the office, with signatures from each of 5 counties equal in number to 1 percent of the last vote for the office in the county. Signatures to recall Senators, members of the Assembly, members of the Board of Equalization, and judges of courts of appeal and trial courts must equal in number 20 percent of the last vote for the office.”

    Section 18 prevents recalls from happening more frequently than every eight months or so (approx. 10 weeks to hold the election, then another six months of constitutionally-guaranteed delay after the election). Section 19 directs the Legislature to provide for recall of local government officials.

    It appears that recall applies broadly to the entire spectrum of elected officials in the State.

  13. Every California governor since WWI has been faced with some effort at recall. Ol’ Gray is simply the first governor to be so painfully incompetent that the effort continued to pick up steam.

  14. It is perfectly fine to argue, as Dowd and Safire have, that the recall of Gov. Davis is a perfectly legal,valid ballot issue that happens to be completely idiotic and deserves to be defeated. This would, in fact, also apply to half the propositions on the California ballot in a given election, as well.

    Finally, what the hell is Daniel Weintraub talking about when he vents about how the recall election is going to “unlock the rooms” of California power brokers? California voters have been free to pass whatever law they have damn well pleased to tell the elected officials how to act. It’s been like that for decades.

  15. “One of the close-the-barn-door criticisms of the Oct. 7 vote is that it could foreshadow a future of endless tit-for-tat recall elections”

    Cool! I was already hoping the impeachment of Clinton would lead to a similar tit-for-tat phenomenon in every administration.

  16. Dean – and that’s part of the reason why California is in such a nasty budget crisis right now (I’m no Davis fan by any means, in fact, I supported the recall very openly, but even I will admit that the budget crisis is not even close to being all his fault). California, for whatever reason, opens seemingly every financing issue to a democratic vote. Noble in principle, because it gives power to the “common man”. But stupid in practice, because, quite frankly, the “common man” is really shitty at finance.

  17. James Merritt’s arguments that the recall election could be good for libertarians are quite sound. Assuming a modest turnout, niche candidates with highly motivated followers could grab a percentage of the vote much higher than they could in a regular election. Unless the Greens run a candidate of their own, a libertarian would be the logical choice for those Californians wanting to show their displeasure with the major parties.

    From my point of view, that’s another reason to dislike the whole idea of this recall election. All it would take is one solid Democrat to enter a race with several Republicans splitting the GOP base for the Democrats to retain the governorship and be rid of the albatross that Gray Davis has become, and a libertarian candidate would very likely split the Republican base even further. The California Republicans who pushed this idea are demonstrating once again the justice of their reputation for poor political judgement.

  18. And speaking of Jerry Brown, isn’t he eligible to run? He served his two terms before term limits were enacted in 1990.

    And he’s even loopier than Arianna Huffington.

  19. Thanks for doing my work for me, Mr. Merritt. Beyond what I expected!

  20. Although I won’t cry if Davis leaves, I am a little bothered by the possibility of electing a governor with only 20% of the vote. Maybe Gov. 20% will do a great job, but I’d like to see a little more endorsement than that for whoever takes office.

    This is one good reason why we should use an alternative election method to ensure that the winner gets more support. To learn about possible alternatives, check out


  21. Zathrus, what does it matter if it’s a Republican or a Democrat who wins the recall race? They’re not all that different, and where they are different, they’re often both wrong. I’m with Ralph Nader on this one… he was right not to care that he might have cost Al Gore the election, because from his point of view both of the two major parties are horrible. I come from the opposite ideological side, but he has a good point.


  22. Brad-

    Several years ago California was swimming in money. The pols couldn’t spend it fast enough. California has a relatively high personal income tax at $3.75/100.00 a slightly low sales tax of $3.06/100.00 and an inflated Bank and Corporation tax. Additionally California has had a windfall in property tax revenues. As houses sold in the half million-dollar range that formerly were valued at 125,00 this adds $3750.00 a year in tax revenue. Sacramento has plenty of money. It’s just in the hands of idiots that have no fiscal responsibility.

  23. I wouldn’t blame all the fiscal problems on irresponsibility. The New Economy was going to last forever, remember?

  24. Joe-

    I think that was a huge part of the problem. Sacramento behaved as if the boom was the new paradigm and spent accordingly. If this isn’t fiscal irresponsibility what is? I realize that your comments are somewhat tongue in cheek, but it appears that Sacramento took you literally and missed the sarcasm.

  25. EMAIL: amelia2003_5@yahoo.com
    DATE: 01/21/2004 06:20:35
    Ideas on Earth are badges of friendship or enmity.

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