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California | THE RECALL ELECTION

Anger Yields to Hope for Many Voters

One Bay Area resident said she'd like to see her region secede from Schwarzenegger's state. Others believe he may reinvigorate California.

October 12, 2003|Mitchell Landsberg and Lee Romney | Times Staff Writers

High in the cab of a yellow Caterpillar road grader, Stu Miller sat at the intersection of old and new California.

A rugged 54-year-old who grew up on a ranch in the San Fernando Valley, Miller was gazing in the direction of old U.S. Route 66 as it cut through San Bernardino County. Behind him was a hillside terraced with brand-new homes, the sort of instant suburb that has transformed this arid patch of Southern California in recent years.

But the intersection Miller was thinking about, as sun caught the gold in his tousled blond hair, was a purely symbolic one: the one captured Tuesday by the California recall election.

The state that Miller loves had been going straight downhill, as far as he was concerned. He ticked off the familiar causes: Out-of-control workers' compensation costs. Lost jobs. The energy debacle. And one more thing, he added: Californians have gotten lazy. They expect too much from government. They don't want to take responsibility.

"The people have to start doing some of the work themselves," he said.

Now, like many Californians in the broad swath that voted overwhelmingly to recall Gov. Gray Davis and to elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, Miller is full of hope. At last, he believes, California has a governor who can get something done.

"He seems like the right guy for the job," he said, shouting over the noise of heavy machinery as he took a break from grading a vacant lot that would soon be a sales yard for pumpkins. Miller runs a chain of lots that sells pumpkins before Halloween and Christmas trees before Christmas.

Can Schwarzenegger turn things around, he was asked -- end the discontent that has chafed at his fellow Californians, steer the country's biggest state economy in the right direction?

"I think with the right people behind him, he can turn this state around," Miller said. "But it's going to take some work. Some serious work."

In the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, USA Today published a map of the United States that defined a moment in time. It showed all the counties that had voted for Democrat Al Gore in blue; those that had voted for Republican George W. Bush in red. The vast breadth of the nation's midsection was almost all red; the East and West coasts almost entirely blue.

A shorthand was instantly born to describe the country's cultural and political divide: red and blue America.

After the California recall election, CNN produced a map that showed the anti-recall counties in Democratic blue and the pro-recall counties in Republican red. Practically the entire state was red, with the exceptions of a thin band of contiguous coastal counties stretching from Monterey County in the south to Humboldt County in the north, and encompassing the entire San Francisco Bay area, and a lone county in the south: Los Angeles.

Red and blue California.

Stu Miller lives in red California. A third-generation Californian, a Republican who makes his home in Thousand Oaks, he knew all along that he would vote for the recall and for Schwarzenegger.

Jozlyn Aubrey lives in blue California. A 26-year-old training administrator from San Leandro in Alameda County, Aubrey was among 70% of Alameda County voters to oppose the recall -- and among 80% of African American women to do so.

"I'm proud of the way the Bay Area voted, and while we're at it, I'd be up for splitting California into two states," she said one day last week as she strolled through Oakland's waterfront Jack London Square with a friend from Hawaii. "There was a lot of anger on my end when I saw the results and I saw who voted how."

Aubrey had few compliments for Davis. But "I didn't feel he did anything egregious enough to warrant a recall. Yeah, he didn't handle the energy crisis very well, but you can't blame him for it or for the tech implosion," she said. "Let's face it: The whole nation is not faring so well."

There has been a lot of anger on both sides of the blue-red divide.

Schwarzenegger supporters directed theirs at Davis -- and, in many cases, at The Times, which reported allegations of past sexual harassment on the part of the candidate. Recall opponents aimed theirs at the Republican Party, at Schwarzenegger -- and sometimes, in the aftermath of the vote, at the rest of the state.

"I don't want to live in California anymore," said a Democratic Party activist in San Francisco, Rebecca Reynolds-Silverberg, as the results became clear on election night. "We're totally surrounded by idiots."

On some issues, exit polls showed that the divisions reflected differences in perceptions of the state. Those who voted for the recall and for Schwarzenegger were overwhelmingly likely to harbor fears about the economy. Those who voted against the recall -- for the status quo -- were much less likely to be worried.

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