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After the Jokes, Then What?

August 03, 2003

Will Arnold run? Probably not. Will former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan go for it? Maybe to probably. What about Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein? That's a mystery. Why not Angelyne, Los Angeles' all- image-and-no-substance professional celebrity? She may well be on the ballot, the ultimate symbol of this incomprehensible election.

Is Democratic unity behind Gov. Gray Davis shattering? Perhaps crumbling slowly. Will a promised legal challenge delay the election? That's a wild card. Or could a court case make Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante governor if Californians vote Oct. 7 to recall Davis from office? Probably not, but who knows? The untested law governing recall elections is vague in some places and seemingly in conflict with itself in others. One more chore for the Legislature next year: fix the previously untested recall process.

One certainty is that the flood of potential candidates cements California's reputation as the political loony bin of the nation. They range from past losers such as Bill Simon Jr. and Michael Huffington to Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who reasoned that a progressive California wouldn't "have a problem with a smut peddler as governor." Quite a contrast to the soccer moms and at least one teenager who have done the preliminary filing.

County registrars are having heartburn over the compressed election schedule and a possible mile-long ballot. Not to mention that some counties are in the midst of switching from the old punch-card voting system to new voting machines. Will they be forced to revert to the discredited punch cards?

Presumably "Terminator" actor Arnold Schwarzenegger will announce at midweek, a few days before the Saturday deadline, that he isn't running and then discuss the decision with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show." Then, Riordan may or may not declare that he is in, adopting Ah-nold's campaign team.

Democrats who oppose the recall but fear losing have urged Feinstein to be a candidate. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) expressed the inherent dilemma of this approach by saying voters should "first and foremost" vote against the recall of Davis but that Democrats might also need a strong alternative candidate should Davis get the boot.

The problem is that if Feinstein runs she almost guarantees that Davis will be recalled. As the state's most popular pol, Feinstein would be preferable to Davis for many Democrats and independents and even a considerable number of Republicans. Would she then wind up the villain who crassly denied a governor his legitimately elected term or would she be the Joan of Arc who rescued the governorship for Democrats?

All of these questions, many of them ridiculous, add up to one conclusion about the recall election. It shouldn't be happening. California as national laughingstock is a small thing. California as a political and economic basket case is not. Wall Street analysts are watching the recall as closely as the comedians. When the laughs are over, Californians will have to live with the outcome. The more decisively the recall itself is rejected the better.

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