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Numbers Add Up to Fall Recall Election

A Times survey finds that county officials have verified more than enough signatures to force a vote on removing Gov. Davis from office.

July 23, 2003|Michael Finnegan and Allison Hoffman | Times Staff Writers

County election officers have confirmed more than 1.1 million valid signatures on the petition for an election on whether to recall Gov. Gray Davis -- well above the threshold to qualify for the ballot, a Los Angeles Times survey found on Tuesday.

The tally makes a recall vote in late September or early October all but inevitable. But in an interview Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante raised doubts about the widespread assumption that Californians would simultaneously vote on recalling Davis and on choosing a potential successor.

By 5 p.m. today, California's 58 counties must report their latest tallies to Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. Unless he rejects a large share of the signatures or a court intervenes, Shelley will have to certify the recall proposal for a statewide vote.

Bustamante said he would then take no more than 24 hours to set the date for California's first statewide recall election.

Together, those actions could clear the way for candidates to begin jockeying for position as they embark on a short and unusual campaign for control of the nation's biggest state government.

For years, local recall elections in California have offered voters a two-part ballot. The first part asks whether the elected official should be recalled. The second lists possible replacements.

Potential candidates to succeed Davis -- including U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), Los Angeles businessman Bill Simon Jr. and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger -- have been expecting Bustamante to call a traditional two-part election.

But Bustamante refused to say whether he would call for the election of a Davis successor on the same ballot as the recall question.

When a governor faces a recall vote, the state Constitution requires the lieutenant governor to set the date for it -- and to call for the election of a successor "if appropriate."

Bustamante, though, said it was not his role to decide whether a Davis recall ballot would include a vote on potential successors.

"My job is to set the date," he said.

Asked who would decide whether a simultaneous vote on a Davis successor occurs, Bustamante invoked the obscure Commission on the Governorship.

"I think it would take the commission and the California Supreme Court to make that decision," he said.

State law empowers the commission to "petition the Supreme Court to determine any questions that arise relating to vacancies in and succession to the office of Governor."

The commission chairman would be Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. The other members would be Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, the University of California president, the Cal State system's chancellor and the governor's director of finance.

Burton, a San Francisco Democrat, said he was checking on his role as chairman, but he cast doubt on whether the panel was relevant to the recall. Burton said it was clear to him that the election of a successor would be on the ballot with the recall.

The law that sets up the commission is one of many under intense scrutiny by California officials and election lawyers.

"The prospect of the recall qualifying means that statutes that have been on the books for decades are going to be used for the very first time," said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer.

Shelley's spokeswoman, Terri Carbaugh, said the lieutenant governor has sought legal advice from the secretary of state's office.

Fred Woocher, a Santa Monica lawyer who specializes in election law, questioned whether the Commission on the Governorship would play a role in the Davis recall attempt. The commission, he said, appeared designed to address confusing questions of vacancy, such as might occur if a governor were disabled but refused to relinquish authority. In this case, he said, no such confusion exists.

The constitutional discretion to call for an election of a successor "if appropriate" would most likely apply to appointed judges recalled by popular vote, but not to governors, Woocher said, adding that it was "far-fetched" to argue otherwise.

The Times survey of county registrars found that even with some counties still not finished, they have validated at least 1,105,802 voter signatures on the petition for a Davis recall election.

It takes 897,158 to qualify the recall for the ballot, and Shelley, a San Francisco Democrat, must automatically certify that it is eligible for a vote if recall supporters submit 110% of the minimum -- or 986,858.

Several potential candidates have been preparing to decide within days whether to enter the race. One of them, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, stopped just short of ruling out a candidacy on Tuesday.

"The odds are I won't run," he said in an interview.

Advisors to other candidates have braced for the possibility that Bustamante would give them as little as one day to decide whether to enter the race.

But Bustamante said he believed that one day "would probably be too short a time."

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