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The Gray Davis Effort
In Dissent, Number Eighty-Seven
by Brian S. Wise
18 February 2003

Examining whether or not to recall Gray Davis.

Regarding the effort to recall Gray Davis: The California State Constitution addresses the matter of recall, in its second article, fourteenth and fifteenth sections. “Recall of a state officer is initiated by delivering to the Secretary of State a petition alleging reason for recall. Sufficiency of reason is not reviewable .… A petition to recall … must be signed by electors equal in number to 12 percent of the last vote for the office …. An election to determine whether to recall an officer and, if appropriate, to elect a successor shall be called by the Governor and held not less than 60 days nor more than 80 days from the date of certification of sufficient signatures [in this case, about 900,000] .… If the majority vote on the question is to recall, the officer is removed and, if there is a candidate, the candidate who receives a plurality is the successor.”

That explains the technical aspects, but what about the ideological aspects of the effort itself? Shawn Steel, chairman of the California Republican Party (and head of a taxpayers group called The People’s Advocate) explains, “When [Davis] became governor he was left with a $10 billion surplus and immediately went on the most aggressive spending campaigning [sic] of any state in America.” Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters explains, “He’s not a well-liked person in this state by just about anybody either politically or personally.”

Exactly why any of that is relevant to the effort has yet to be explained, and won’t be, by anyone, anywhere. All that has been competently explained is that the Davis approval rating consistently hovers around 30 percent, that the State is $30 (or $35, depending on who you believe) billion in the red, and that the debt increases in the amount of $27 million every day. All bad, but none of it speaks directly to why Davis should be replaced immediately, only to the fact he is incompetent and a failure as a leader – not unlike a nice percentage of all public officials, once you think about it, up to and including those who caused the remainder of this country’s oft-discussed State deficits.

The State Republican party has yet to endorse the recall effort, and would be particularly wise not to. One should be deeply sympathetic to the cause of eliminating mismanagement in government, wherever it should preside. But Gray Davis is a second term Governor, and $30 billion deficits don’t just appear out of the thin air. The problems that plague California today were just as prevalent (and obvious) six months ago, at a time when State Republicans could have rallied more forcefully behind Bill Simon, who only lost by 364,000 votes out of about eight million cast. Elections are tricky things here in America, given that they’re permanent, and not normally subject to someone’s ill-tempered whims. It’s hard to imagine Bill Simon doing a worse job than Davis, but that is a matter of permanent speculation.

Californians are Democrats, given even the occasional hiccup; gaining 900,000 signatures may prove to be simpler than is suspected, but forcing Davis out of office is a virtual impossibility, given that 1) California is by and large a Blue State, and will remain forever thus, and 2) California has never seen a successful recalling of a Statewide official. This will be no exception; to look at Gray Davis, it can be agreed upon that he is inept, but not so inept as to warrant a removal.

Those things bothering Republicans today will most likely still be intact four years from now – if politics has taught us anything, it’s that a government spiraling out of control will continue the downward spiral until such a time as the people have seen enough, and bring in someone else, commanding them to fix things. The closest opportunity to right California’s course will come in 2006, and it should be relished, not pre-empted. Substantive efforts before then could very well do damage to the State party, and someone in a reasonable position of power wouldn’t be unwise to mention: Doing what is right inside the framework of politics isn’t a race, it’s a marathon; it’s better to allow Gray Davis to spectacularly flame out on his own, at which time Republicans will be challenged to clean up the mess as best they can. Anything other than this, most especially in a losing effort, is a black eye the party cannot be allowed to suffer.

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