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Ventura County Perspective

Webb's Site Put to Work in Recall Effort

May 28, 2000|EVERLY KELLEY | Beverly Kelley teaches in the communications department at Cal Lutheran University. Address e-mail to

Since 1837, residents of Sacramento have been bothered by a weed that proliferates nonstop. As folks in Northern California have discovered, it's almost impossible to get rid of quackgrass. I suspect getting rid of Quackenbush will be no picnic either.

In fact, grass-roots activism has taken on new meaning for former Simi Valley Councilwoman Sandi Webb. The woman who also serves as the state secretary of the Libertarian Party has become a cyberwarrior in the campaign to recall Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, whom she served with a "Notice of Intention to Circulate a Recall Petition" on Monday. Webb believes Quackenbush is, in a word, corrupt.

Back in 1994, she was convinced that the predawn rocking and rolling that cost Simi Valley approximately $400 million in earthquake damage was definitely "the big one." She will never forget the roar of dropping dishes in her kitchen but, as she reminds me, her recall effort isn't about earthquakes or even insurance companies. It's about a man who is "unfit for office."

Since California's recall legislation was enacted in 1911 to break the stranglehold of special interests, there have been more than 112 attempts to send state officials packing. Fewer than a handful have succeeded.

Even though every California governor since 1960 has weathered multiple recall attempts, all have survived--largely because a shortage of signatures (getting on the ballot for a statewide office requires nearly a million) keeps most axings off the ballot.

Paying signature gatherers who work malls and markets and "educating" the voters via glossy four-color mailers isn't cheap. Even though insurance companies, upright or otherwise, can't be too happy with the way they were jerked around by the insurance commissioner's office, Webb isn't counting on them for generous campaign contributions.

However, now that anybody is free to clamber aboard an Internet soapbox, Webb suspects she has found a high-tech detour around the usual pecuniary potholes. Instead of going the traditional and high-priced route for collecting signatures, Sandi hopes to employ her Webb site (which has only been in existence for only two weeks) to save on postage and printed materials as well as establishing easy e-access to some 964,324 registered voters she needs to sign on the dotted line.

How effective decentralized digital distribution of petitions will be remains to be seen. However, according to the New York Times, there are already more than 6,700 home grown cyber-sites directed toward the 2000 presidential campaign, gussied up as impressively as with enticing animation and long lists of instructional links. What they don't have is a pixilated portrait of the insurance commissioner behind bars, clutching a vanity license plate bearing the designation "Quacky."

Why a recall when Quackenbush is already being bird-dogged by the Legislature, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the state Fair Political Practices Commission, as well as being hauled into court via a class-action suit? Webb simply doesn't like to leave these matters in the paws of other politicians. Besides, if Quackenbush were to resign today, the governor would get to name his successor. Webb wants the voters to decide for themselves. She's rather fond of Secretary of State Bill Jones but realizes he may not be available.

Webb is much more subdued these days in spite of being courted by CNN, the Michael Jackson show and various members of the Fourth Estate.

"If only I could keep my mouth shut," she sighs.

The pistol-packin' mama who supports the Second Amendment with great relish has had time on her hands. This erstwhile councilwoman roller-skated her way into the hearts of Simi Valley voters back in 1990 and was shown the door in 1998, largely due, in her opinion, to an impetuous one-finger salute to Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) position on assault weapons.

It had to hurt when both Feinstein (who was not all that gracious in accepting Webb's apology) and former Gov. Pete Wilson (whose office in June 1992 was graced by 300 pounds of turnips and Webb's admonition, "Get blood out of these") ended up endorsing her opponent.

Controversy has always seemed to swirl around Webb but she hopes this is the last time an inventory of peccadilloes will follow her in print. From now on she wants to be remembered as the woman who rid the Golden State of Quackenbush.

Quackgrass, like Quackenbush, seems to only flourish in Sacramento. The climate provides the perfect growing conditions and any time anyone attempts to chop it out, it just seems to go forth and multiply.

You know, we've really got to stop thinking of grass-roots activism in terms of where it starts. It is, more precisely, about where it ends. At the root.

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