The Democratic Party shouldn't choose between fighting the recall against Gov. Gray Davis and giving voters the option of a qualified replacement if the recall succeeds. As leaders and public servants, we must do both.
The recall against Davis is not fair to him and, more important, it is not fair to Californians.
Davis is not the only governor to suffer a drop in approval ratings; his Democratic and Republican colleagues across the country have seen their poll ratings plummet as they grapple with the fallout from the Bush administration's tax cuts and deficits.
The difference is that here in California cynical opportunists have taken advantage of the governor's difficulties. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) has used his personal fortune to overturn a legitimate election in support of his own ambitions to become governor.
The recall is wrong. But as Democrats, our obligation to look out for the welfare of our state is even greater than our duty to defend our governor.
Yes, we must vigorously urge voters to go to the polls and vote no on Oct. 7. But if we don't succeed, the top candidate from the "replacement ballot" will take office almost immediately.
It would be irresponsible to risk turning California over to Issa or another politician bent on a personal power grab. Nor would it serve our state if someone with well-articulated views but no significant leadership experience drew enough support from frustrated moderates and progressives to be elected under the Democratic (or even the Green Party) banner.
Nevertheless, Democratic Party leaders have promised to keep all major Democrats off the replacement ballot.
What state law or party regulation do they think gives them that power? Have they asked whether the voters agree to being deprived of that choice? Have they considered the effect of the resulting drop in Democratic voter turnout on our efforts to defeat the recall itself? And, most important, don't they see that our party has a higher obligation to all the people of California than to a single politician?
Since June, when the recall election became inevitable, I have urged our party to support Sen. Dianne Feinstein as its preferred candidate on the replacement ballot.
This would not be a "Feinstein for Governor" campaign, but an insurance policy for California. We would send voters a coordinated message to vote no on the recall -- and then to vote for Feinstein just in case the recall succeeded.
Feinstein became mayor of San Francisco suddenly, in the wake of a political assassination. A successful executive who balanced many a city budget, she was nearly elected governor in 1990 and has since won three statewide elections to the U.S. Senate. There, she has fought effectively to protect California's interests in the areas of education, public safety, the economy and the environment.
She knows our needs and has a proven ability to make the system work for us.
Strategists for Davis are concerned that the presence on the ballot of a credible alternative like Feinstein would weaken his chances to beat the recall. They should not be. No one is better qualified than she to argue against the recall and attract droves of Democrats -- and others -- to the polls to vote for its defeat.
We must make sure that if this recall succeeds, we have at least left the state in capable hands. It is our responsibility as leaders, and as Democrats, to give the voters a choice.