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Why the Recall Is Wrong

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.

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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.

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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?

Tom McClintock: McClintock is the anti-mealy-mouthed candidate. He’s done his homework, has been consistent and has fully articulated his positions. The problem is, McClintock would have to govern all of California, not just the conservative wing of the GOP. His intolerant social views -- on public services for the poor, on gays and on abortion, as well as his draconian solutions to problems of illegal immigration and his opposition to banning assault weapons -- are out of step with mainstream California. Still, he almost won statewide office last year as controller in a race with then-political unknown Steve Westly. No doubt McClintock has a bigger future in GOP politics, but he is unsuitable for the top job in the nation’s most diverse state.

Peter Camejo: Camejo, the perpetual Green Party candidate, has some good-sounding ideas about making taxation policies more fair. But his simplistic tax-the-rich reform doesn’t take into account that California already has one of the most progressive income tax systems in the country.

Arianna Huffington: Huffington, conservative-turned-libertarian/liberal-gadfly author and columnist, sparked necessary conversation about the need for fundamental, statewide reforms. Controversy over her own payment of taxes damaged the credibility of her campaign against greed.

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Replacement: No Endorsement

If state voters are to throw out a governor less than one year into his term, the replacement should be demonstrably superior. This field of contenders offers no such person. Changing the governor in midstream would not address what really ails California state and local governments; the recall of Davis instead would invite more political chaos and economic uncertainty. Worse, the state and the nation could look forward to more recalls pushed by poor losers who simply didn’t want to wait for the end of a four-year term. The vituperative, scorched-earth politics of partisan payback would be never ending.

The recall is a form of misdirected anger at what’s wrong with Sacramento. Here’s what causes most of California’s dysfunction: illogical tax laws and policies; gerrymandering; term limits, which take power from the elected and hand power to the lobbyists; a political system fueled by big business and big union cash; and, yes, ill-considered ballot initiatives and recall elections. As soon as this recall is over, voters finally can collectively concentrate on ridding Sacramento of the real causes of the state’s problems. Recall might feel good, but it would cause the worst political hangover California has ever had.

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