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Pouring Passions Into the Ballot Box

October 08, 2003|Mitchell Landsberg and Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writers

Eleanor Ouinette of Burbank voted with gusto Tuesday for the recall of Gov. Gray Davis and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. "For me, it was a simple, clear-cut choice," she said. "Davis stinks, and I want him out."

Bryan Carr of Los Angeles voted for the first time since 1988 -- against the recall, and for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. He described Schwarzenegger as "a right-wing candidate masquerading as a moderate." And he was determined to stop him.

Gloria Edwards of Valley Village had tears in her eyes as she split from the Democratic Party for the first time to vote for Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock.

After a campaign that was ridiculed as a political circus, after an election day that was called off and then on, voters found a new sense of passion in California politics.

It didn't matter whether they were for the recall or against it, for Schwarzenegger or against him. Throughout California, people stood in lines that snaked through hallways and out the doors of churches, homes, community centers and storefronts that served as polling places. Some came early, clutching their sample ballots as they waited for polls to open. Huntington Beach surfers peeled off wetsuits before entering the booth.

In the Mid-City area of Los Angeles, polling inspector Doris Walton was exhausted before noon as she shepherded a never-ending stream of voters from doorway to ballot box at the Tom Bradley Youth and Family Center.

"It's a good exhaustion," she said, taking a quick gulp of water in what passed for her first break of the day.

The Bradley Center is in undisputed Democratic territory, on Pico Boulevard just west of La Brea Avenue. Among a cross-section of voters who were interviewed, all opposed the recall.

"I have never been so passionate about voting," said Alitash Kebede, an Ethiopian immigrant in her mid-40s who has lived in Los Angeles for nearly 25 years. She was balancing a wide-bottomed coffee cup in one hand as she poured out her feelings about the election.

Chiefly, she was feeling indignant about the prospect of a Gov. Schwarzenegger.

"I feel like I'm really, truly living in La-La Land," said Kebede, who owns an art gallery on La Brea. "Nowhere in the world could this happen but California. Everything is a movie! ... It really gets my blood pressure up."

Kebede said she voted against the recall and for Bustamante, although she cast the second vote without enthusiasm. She said the replacement candidates called to mind an old Ethiopian saying, which she translated from Amharic.

In a beauty contest of monkeys, she said, the winner is always a monkey. "This is a classic example."

Elsewhere, the target of insults was Davis.

Kirk Brizzi, 41, an audio equipment salesman, was among the throngs, many in shorts and flip-flops, waiting in line at the Michael E. Rodgers Senior Center in Huntington Beach. The independent, who often votes Republican, was voting for the recall and for McClintock.

Brizzi, a Huntington Beach native, said that just last year he was sitting near the governor at the Minnesota Twins-Anaheim Angels American League championship series and "the first thing I told him was how lousy a job he was doing."

He said he chose McClintock because of his political experience and because "actors are not politicians." And if the next governor is as bad as Davis, he said, "we can just start over and do another recall."

Cheryl Wilson, a 43-year-old dental assistant from Ontario, said she had opposed the recall until she heard about the car tax increase and the governor granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

"That's when he frosted me," Wilson said.

Her vote: for the recall, and for Schwarzenegger.

Nothing less than the future of California was at stake, it seemed.

"I'm really worried about this state," said Julie Terraciano of Oakland. The teacher and therapist said she never misses an election. But this one, she said, felt especially important.

She voted "no" on the recall -- and "no" on Schwarzenegger.

"I don't think he's indicated that he really knows how to manage a state government," she said. "We've been given no clear indication about what his thoughts are. All I've heard are sound bites, and I'm not impressed."

Tom Piccirillo, a 40-year-old loan officer, and Michael Fowler, a 45-year-old contractor, repaired to a coffeehouse in Brentwood after casting their votes. Piccirillo is an independent and Fowler is a Democrat, but both said they cast enthusiastic votes for Schwarzenegger.

"We're pretty tolerant, liberal guys," Piccirillo said. "But we need someone who can be in charge. We need a quarterback."

Piccirillo, a former actor, said he was also hoping that a self-made Hollywood star like Schwarzenegger could stop the runaway production and other ills that have dampened the prospects of the entertainment industry of late.

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