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The Republican Recall Hits California

by Faramarz Nabavi Friday, Aug. 15, 2003 at 4:01 PM

The "Terminator" Becomes Bush's Weapon of Mass Destruction: Anatomy of a Heist An Overview of California's Gubernatorial Recall Election, Candidates, and Ballot Propositions from a Progressive Viewpoint

With Republicans ramming through redistricting schemes in Texas and Colorado to pack the House of Representatives, forcing the cancellation of presidential primaries in Colorado, Kansas, and Utah, and embedding Republican-controlled computerized balloting companies to run elections in states across the country - systems that elected Republicans in 2002 where polls showed them consistently behind - a pattern is emerging: having seized control of the United States by a judicial coup d'etat, the Republican Party is dismantling electoral democracy in America, brick by brick.

Just eight months after the gubernatorial election in November 2002, California will be holding an election to recall Governor Gray Davis. Having won reelection with less than 50% of the vote and declining popularity since, most observers believe Davis will most likely lose, but he has pledged to fight and has the backing of the California Labor Federation for now. Current polls indicate voters lean 2-1 in favor of recall, blaming Davis for the poor economy, the state budget mess, a perception of corruption, and both ends of the political spectrum criticizing his record on issues ranging from the environment, workers, business, health care, and the prison system, among others.

The Republican recall effort has the Bush Administration's fingerprints all over it. White House strategist Karl Rove has been advising Arnold Schwarzenegger for months, while Bush's California campaign fundraising chair, billionaire Gerald Parsky, and Bush 2000 campaign spokesperson Mindy Tucker have been coordinating efforts with recall organizers. With all three branches of the federal government in Republican hands, California is the biggest base of opposition to the Bush Administration; having a Republican governor as the standard-bearer for the 2004 election in California will put the state in play for a Bush victory.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party's strategy for keeping all prominent Democrats off the ballot fell apart when efforts by some to draft Senator Dianne Feinstein failed. As Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped in on the Republican side, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat, quickly followed suit, and now liberal groups are leaning toward a "No on Recall - Yes for Bustamante strategy." Although Latino and core Democratic voters may vote for Bustamante against Schwarzenegger, he faces an uphill fight given that most voters do not know who he is. A CNN poll reported on August 11 suggests that Schwarzenegger is starting off with 42% support vs. 22% for Bustamante, with the rest of the candidates far behind. Bustamante managed to get some news coverage for his proposal to replace the vehicle license fee (car tax) increase with higher taxes on the wealthy, tobacco, and alcohol. Former President Bill Clinton has said he might come and campaign against the recall, having gone through an earlier impeachment "recall" attempt over Monica Lewinsky by Republicans; celebrities like Martin Sheen, who played the President on "The West Wing," may speak out as well.

Some are calling this recall election a perversion of democracy, where one rich Republican businessman and Member of Congress, Darrell Issa, bought a recall by spending nearly million to gather signatures to overturn the result of an election held less than a year ago. The main change between then and now: California's financial credit rating has nose-dived as Republicans in the State Legislature held California's budget hostage to their ideological demands; the state constitution's requirement for a 2/3 vote to pass a budget - shared only by Arkansas and Rhode Island - enabled the Republicans to manufacture the very crisis that allowed them to tap into public disgust and blame it on Davis instead. The Republicans have nothing to lose, getting a second chance at taking Davis down at public expense: if they win the governorship, Bush may have a chance at winning California next year, and if they lose on either the recall or the governorship, they will have forced the Democrats to spend lots of money that would have otherwise gone to defeating Bush.

The recall election will take place on Tuesday, October 7, 2003, with the state's costs of conducting this special election soaring to nearly million. The ballots will consist of four parts:

1. Whether to recall Governor Gray Davis - requires a 50% + 1 majority of votes

2. Electing a new governor (in case if recall passes) - highest vote-getter wins (potentially could be less than 10% of the vote)

3. Proposition 53 - infrastructure funding - requires a 50% + 1 majority of votes

4. Proposition 54 - "Racial Privacy Initiative" - requires a 50% + 1 majority of votes

Candidates with the highest standing in the polls so far:

Democratic: Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante

Republican: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom McClintock, Bill Simon, Pete Ueberroth

Green: Peter Camejo

Independent: Arianna Huffington

Bustamante, having served as Speaker of the Assembly and now Lt. Governor, would be the first Latino governor in 130 years and is the only prominent elected Democrat in the race. Two real estate developers, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Peter Ueberroth (who organized the 1984 Olympics in LA), lead the corporate wing of the Republican Party while State Senator Tom McClintock and 2002 gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon are rallying the conservative vote. Peter Camejo and Arianna Huffington, columnist and former wife of 1994 Republican senatorial candidate Michael Huffington, are pledging to campaign together for the progressive vote and have publicly suggested that one of them may endorse the other if there's a chance at winning. Greens and electoral reform advocates are trying to show people how an instant runoff/ranked choice voting system would eliminate the so-called "spoiler" effect that is even more likely to be an issue with so many candidates in the race. IRV would ensure that only a candidate with support from the majority could win. The Peace & Freedom Party is running its first candidate on the ballot in half a decade: C.T. Weber, a union activist in Sacramento. There are 135 candidates running for governor in the recall.

Other candidates receiving a large share of media attention include Mathilda Spak, a 100 year old retiree recruited to run by 99 Cent Stores; Jack Grisham, punk rock musician; Larry Flint, publish of Hustler porn magazine and casino owner; Mary "Mary Carey" Cook, porn movie actress; Angelyne, billboard model; Gary Coleman, actor who played "Arnold" on "Diff'rent Strokes"; Leo Gallagher, comedian; and Leonard Padilla, bounty hunter. Collectively, these candidates have been receiving more corporate TV news coverage than any other candidate except Arnold Schwarzenegger, giving a focus to celebrity rather than issues.

There are also several candidates with names closely resembling those of well-known elected officials and celebrities: Dan Feinstein (like Dianne Feinstein), S. Issa (like Darrell Issa), Edward "Ed" Kennedy, Michael Jackson, and Richard Simmons. Observers have speculated these may have been recruited to siphon off votes from Democrats and conservative Republicans who could pose a threat to Schwarzenegger. Some far-right Republican commentators such as Rush Limbaugh are burnishing Schwarzenegger's "moderate" image by stating that Hollywood personalities cannot be counted upon to be consistently conservative. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, two of Schwarzenegger's largest contributors, David and Suzanne Booth, are also Huffington's largest contributors as well; this has raised some eyebrows, given Huffington's former background as a conservative Republican, consistent strong support for the recall and focus on targeting progressive voters.

Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign is increasingly looking like a retread of the Pete Wilson era, much like George W. Bush's drew upon his father's cabal, with Pete Wilson himself heading the campaign strategy and his circle of advisers running Schwarzenegger's campaign. Together with Schwarzenegger's support for Proposition 187, the controversial initiative that banned services to immigrants, Schwarzenegger's views are going to come into closer view, as will allegations of repeated sexual harassment and his real estate dealings. Pete Wilson's own legacy of immigrant bashing, unpopular privatized toll roads, and creating the disastrous electricity deregulation scheme may also come back into the debate. Schwarzenegger has also been drawing upon the advisers of disgraced former Insurance Commissioner Charles Quackenbush, including Jeff Randle, who came up with the idea of soliciting campaign contributions from the very insurance companies that stiffed the victims of the Northridge earthquake - the scandal that lead to Quackenbush's downfall. To top all of this off, Schwarzenegger attended a secret meeting with Enron CEO Ken Lay and top California Republican leaders on energy policy at the height of the electricity scandal: Schwarzenegger worked directly with those who nearly bankrupted the state and caused our blackouts.

Son of an Austrian Nazi brownshirt and Wehrmacht military police officer, Schwarzenegger has donated over 0,000 dollars to the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance and has repudiated his father's political beliefs, but has also said in published interviews that he used to think the Democrats were "pure evil" and, "I am more comfortable with an Adam Smith philosophy than with Keynesian theory," indicating a free-market economic philosophy. With an estimated wealth of over 0 million, much of it attributable to real estate development, Schwarzenegger says he "can't be bought," but has said nothing about public campaign financing.

Two other Republican-driven initiatives will also be on the ballot: Proposition 54, the so-called "Racial Privacy Initiative," brought to you by Ward Connerly, the black Republican who served as the public face for Prop. 209 that banned affirmative action. Contrary to its name, Prop. 54 is not about racial privacy - laws and court decisions already make self-identification by race voluntary - it will instead bar the State of California and all local government from asking or gathering any information based on race or ethnicity. This will have far-ranging consequences, from covering up hate crimes and preventing identification of public health and education patterns, to permitting discrimination in housing and services to go unchecked by government. The only exceptions are identifying criminals (not victims), a few specific medical uses, and "to comply with federal law." For the Republicans, "victims' rights" don't include minorities.

Republicans are ecstatic at the opportunity to launch a wholesale attack on programs for minorities on top of taking out the Democrats, and polls show that the likely turnout for the recall election will be disproportionately white and Republican. Added to that will be sharp cutbacks in the number of polling places and the retention of punch-card "hanging chad" ballots slated for removal by the next election in counties with high minority populations, such as Los Angeles, increasing the levels of disenfranchisement among minority voters. The other initiative, Prop. 53, will tie down a mandatory percentage of shrinking state funds for infrastructure projects like highways and construction, placing even further pressure on cutbacks for education, health care, and other services; unions and seniors' groups are opposed.

From a progressive standpoint, the Davis record has been a mixed bag: on the downside, he supported logging, deregulated low-level radioactive waste, refused to sign pro-union legislation until he was in danger of losing the 2002 election, acted directly in the interest of corporate contributors, did little to alleviate the lack of medical coverage, and has expanded prisons. However, to Davis's credit, he has banned several toxic pollutants, supported immigrants' rights, enacted paid family medical leave, raised the minimum wage and overtime benefits, raised unemployment benefits and workers compensation levels, allowed Californians to hold HMOs legally accountable, did not join in Ashcroft's crackdown on medical marijuana, established new at-risk youth employment programs, and reversed Pete Wilson's savage cuts in education spending, all of which adds up to a noticeable improvement over Wilson's own record.

Thus, Davis alienated parts of his base of support while angering conservatives as well, leaving him with a vulnerably low approval rating. While his lack of decisive leadership during the beginning of the electricity scandal contributed to the mess, it is critical to remember that the price gouging by energy companies began as soon as the Republicans took the White House and Senate in January 2001, and abruptly ended when Senator Jeffords switched sides and handed control of the Senate back to Democrats; the threat of oversight forced Enron and the rest to back down, and Enron's racketeering-driven financing collapsed into bankruptcy shortly thereafter. The primary blame rightfully belongs with the Republicans, and we can expect more of the same if they take back control of California.


Last day to register to vote: Monday, September 22


California Secretary of State's gubernatorial recall election homepage:

Register to Vote:

List of certified candidates for governor:

Where to vote in Los Angeles County: 800-815-2666


California political articles:

Sacramento Bee Capitol weblog:

Common Dreams opnion piece:


Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante: [none yet]

Peter Camejo:

Arianna Huffington:

Tom McClintock:

Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Bill Simon: [none yet]

Peter Ueberroth:

C.T. Weber:


NO on Recall:

NO on Recall:




NO on Prop 54:

NO on Prop 54:

NO on Prop 53: [none yet]


Advocates for using IRV in recall:

California Instant Runoff Coaltion:

Californians for Electoral Reform:

Center for Voting and Democracy:

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