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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

A Lingering Recall Could Cloud Capitol With Unstable Climate

A lack of resolution to the campaign could distract lawmakers and influence policy.

September 20, 2003|Peter Nicholas and Evan Halper | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Whatever its drawbacks, the Oct. 7 date for the recall has one important advantage, experts say: It would promise a quick end to the uncertainty over the state's leadership. Delaying the election would prolong the power void in crippling ways, some students of state government said.

"If all of a sudden it was uncertain who was going to be leading Ford Motor Co., and it was going to be another five months, Ford stock would go down because major decisions on new models and financing would be delayed," said Tim Hodson, director of the Center for California Studies at Cal State Sacramento. "It's the same thing with state government."

For weeks, the prospect of a recall has heightened partisanship in the state capital. Delaying the election further would set off a scramble in what is normally the quiet opening phase of the legislative session.

A federal appeals court Monday ordered the election delayed, saying that the use of obsolete punch-card voting machines in Los Angeles and five other urban counties would lead to an unacceptable rate of errors. The appeals court announced Friday that a larger panel of judges would reconsider that ruling.

Until the judges decide, lawmakers and lobbyists are left to wonder whether the recall campaign will spill into what is normally a fallow political season in Sacramento.

Davis is to introduce his budget in January, when lawmakers return from their recess, but the Legislature's most serious negotiations don't typically begin until months later. That could change.

With the recall disrupting the capital's normal rhythms in ways large and small, some worry that Davis, if given a five-month campaign, might be tempted to placate constituencies crucial to his survival.

"We'll see Davis supporters use the extra time to squeeze Davis to publicly support their causes, or privately agree to protect their interests," said Doug Heller, spokesman for the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "Our fear is not that Davis will be too distracted by the recall to do his work, but that the recall provides all sorts of dangerous incentives for a man in power."

The idea of keeping the state government in suspense for months is "really a horrendous thought," said Eric Flamholtz, professor of management at UCLA's Anderson School.

"We're the fifth-largest economy in the world, and no one knows who the leader is going to be," he said. "We thought it was going to be resolved in October. Now we're talking about months more of delay."

"You have, in effect, almost an impossible situation."

Some constituents wonder whether they would get any sort of hearing if the Davis administration remained fixated on the election for an extended period.

"It's hard to hear the voices of people in need in the middle of a hurricane -- and the recall is a hurricane," said Antonio Villaraigosa, a Los Angeles city councilman and former speaker of the Assembly.

The insurance industry has been trying to attract attention to issues related to the health risks posed by mold. Dan Dunmoyer, president of the Personal Insurance Federation, said he now worries about the possibility that no one will have time for the matter for months.

Yet for those who figure into a potential winning coalition for Davis, an extended campaign might give entree to the governor's office.

Dan Jacobson, legislative director of the advocacy group Environment California, said he was not sorry to hear that the election might be put off. Davis has sought to portray himself as a strong environmentalist as the recall has taken hold, and Jacobson has welcomed his outspokenness on natural resources.

"It's like having a long, close election," he said. "We're getting a lot of attention from all the candidates.... If the recall hangs around, the governor will probably continue his trend toward signing more pro-environment legislation."

Scott Lay, director of state budget issues for the Community College League of California, said the governor has never been as good a friend of community colleges as he is now.

Lay was delighted by Davis' comments in a recent town hall appearance, where he said community colleges were the most important tier in the state's education system. Lay was scurrying to get a copy of the tape.

With the state facing an $8-billion shortfall, increasing spending to appease certain interests could widen California's stubborn budget gap -- one of the conditions that led to the recall in the first place, others warn.

"This drags out the politicized environment in the state," said David Blair, a senior analyst with Nuveen Investments. "Any governor facing recall would likely be unwilling to take tough measures needed" to address the state's fiscal problems.

Kim Rueben of the Public Policy Institute of California said a delayed election would deter Davis from finding an enduring solution to the state's year-in, year-out budget shortfalls.

"A lot of the structural reform that needs to get done may not get done," Rueben said.

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