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Why the Recall Is Wrong

September 28, 2003

Californians are faced with the most important election in recent memory: the decision on whether to remove and replace Gov. Gray Davis. The implications of this recall go far beyond whether the abysmally unpopular Davis stays or goes.

Davis is a leader of intellect but of no soul. He is a competent policy wonk who can speak at length about budget subventions (don't ask) but can't get legislators of his own Democratic Party to, as he once put it, "implement my vision." For one thing, nobody knows what that vision is. Love them or hate them, former Govs. Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan knew where they wanted to take this state. Davis' modest ideas of where he should steer the ship of state have been those of the overnight helmsman, not the captain. He has spent too much time avoiding issues: not dealing with the energy crisis and not providing relief for small businesses until it was almost too late; not cultivating legislative relationships that could have made him an effective governor.

Davis is, however, a moderate Democrat who has been in step with what most Californians want in environmental protection and personal freedoms. He has been a counterbalance to the more extreme, sometimes downright goofy wing of the state's Democratic Party, the one that once gave the state the Commission on Self-Esteem. But what Davis will most be remembered for is relentless fund-raising from deep-pockets labor and corporate donors. He was hauling in $1 million per month, even at the height of the energy crisis. Not an endearing legacy.


No on Recall

So why not replace him? The Times opposes the recall because it doesn't make sense. There were no reasonable standards in calling for a new election. Davis was elected last year with 47% of the vote; months later, political opponents spent millions to replay the election. Now the state will spend $66 million for a special election, with 135 official candidates, come one, come all. If the recall prevails, the winner, with a minority of the overall vote, would replace a governor who got a large plurality. It's undemocratic.

There is another good reason why we oppose this recall. The alternatives -- as much as truth hurts in this nation-sized state that deserves better -- are not superior to Davis. In fact, they are potentially worse. Consider:

Arnold Schwarzenegger: What a shame that Schwarzenegger, with his power to attract worldwide media attention, failed to lead a serious discussion of what ails California and how to fix it. Instead, he was happy to feed voters predictable lines from his movies: "Let's terminate them. Let's say" [can you possibly guess?] " 'Hasta la vista, baby' to those guys." His outreach to the common man was, shall we say, thin: He told firefighters he identified with them because he had played one in a film. He ran away from a widely respected advisor, investor Warren Buffett, because Buffett dared to suggest that the state's property tax structure was out of whack. A moderate Republican who had a golden opportunity to bring people together, Schwarzenegger squandered that capital by spending most of his campaign ducking the direct and tough questioning that he would have to face as governor. Finally, Schwarzenegger seemed to have only a casual acquaintance with the truth as practiced outside Hollywood. In discussing a controversial 1977 magazine interview about sex and drugs, Schwarzenegger first suggested he was young and foolish at the time, and the next day seemed not to recall the interview. Finally he suggested he had just made it up. His assertions that his statewide after-school program, when it takes effect, will not take money from other state programs -- when the truth is that it will -- suggests a consistent tendency to, at best, oversimplify and, at worst, shade the truth. Though that may be considered roguishly charming in a high-powered movie star, it is neither appealing nor desirable in a governor.

Cruz Bustamante: Bustamante brings to mind the man who was holding someone else's overcoat when the storm hit; luck and the ability to see the obvious opportunity have served him well. But the lieutenant governor has been a disappointing and an unimpressive candidate. His up-by-his-bootstraps, son-of-a-barber American dream story is nice, but it's not enough. While he has been taking millions of dollars from Indian gambling interests, his grasp of economics has proved tenuous. He actually believes that state regulation of gasoline prices would benefit consumers. The only federal attempt to fix gas prices, in the 1970s, led to shortages and lines. Bustamante also has insisted that the energy companies that triggered the state's power crisis also caused the state's fiscal crisis. It's a good sound bite, but surely the lieutenant governor and former Assembly speaker knows that the cause was the national economic downturn and the collapse of the high-tech industry, especially in Silicon Valley.... Or does he?

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