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Criticism Alone Won't Do It

Would-be governors must now offer the voters some solutions.

August 11, 2003

The scores of candidates for governor in the Oct. 7 recall election have gotten their few minutes of fame -- 63 even had their photos on The Times' Page 1 on Sunday. A number of readers thought at first glance that the photos were of disaster victims. There's some truth in the miscomprehension, though the actual victim may be California.

Now the few candidates with an actual shot at becoming governor have only a few weeks to persuade the state that they could actually do better than Gov. Gray Davis. How, for instance, would they pry a better budget out of a terminally divided Legislature whose anti-tax absolutists hold veto power over spending?

Davis failed to lead in the budget crisis and spent far too much time doing favors for his campaign contributors. His chilly and vindictive personal style keeps would-be supporters at arm's length. But the bottom line is this: Most of what is wrong in the state has little to do with him.

Arnold Schwarzenegger will have to get well beyond "I want to represent everyone in California." Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante will have to decide how to speak for himself while still formally opposing the recall, a perhaps impossible conundrum. State Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), who has come out blazing at the political inexperience of Schwarzenegger, should give some thought to why a non-politician is No. 1 in the polls. Peter Ueberroth, organizer of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, will have to remind people under 40 of what he's done in life. Bill Simon must tell Californians why he's worth a vote when he couldn't beat Davis a year ago. Arianna Huffington might be successful as a columnist railing at what's wrong but she has to say how she'd make things right.

Some pundits say that such a short campaign will be decided on celebrity and perceptions of character, not issues. That need not and should not be. In this campaign -- without the filter of a primary election -- it's more important than ever that the candidates take specific stands on matters like the state budget, aid to education and health care.

The major candidates, Bustamante excepted, must provide a specific rationale for booting Davis from office -- something more than saying people are unhappy with the way California is going. There is no evidence that Davis is guilty of malfeasance, the common standard for removing someone from office. The recall law says nothing about standards, so common sense should rule.

A few of the issues that need discussing:

* how to restructure the budget process to eliminate built-in deficits and wild revenue fluctuations;

* how to maintain essential spending levels for schools, transportation, local government, health care, prisons and other necessary programs;

* how to make state and local governments more accountable and more efficient in the delivery of services.

Merely ousting Davis would not bring reform to California. A new governor, starting from scratch and probably facing a hostile Legislature, is not likely to do better and could certainly make things worse.

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