Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Historic vote could remove California's governor from his job

A prominent California Democrat said on Wednesday, August 6 that she would not square off against her state's Democratic governor in an upcoming recall election. The announcement by Sen. Dianne Feinstein comes as Gov. Gray Davis faces a kind of political confrontation that no governor in the U.S. has faced in more than 80 years.

The Republican-led effort to remove Davis from his job has been fueled by dissatisfaction over an ongoing energy crisis in California and by a $38 billion budget deficit, which occurs when a government has spent more money than it has earned. A petition containing 897,158 signatures - or 12 percent of the total votes cast for governor in 2002 - was required to trigger the recall election. Officials from California's 58 counties reported that more than 1.3 million valid signatures were gathered.

Feinstein called the effort to remove Davis a "terrible mistake" and said that "attention should be focused on working in a bipartisan manner" to solve the state's problems. She also said that a recall would increase instability and uncertainty in California and would hamper efforts to help the state get back on its feet.

An election on Oct. 7 will determine whether or not Davis is actually recalled. The election will have two parts. First, voters will be asked whether to recall Davis. Then, they will get to choose from a list of possible successors. If voters decide in the first part of the election to remove Davis, the candidate who wins the most votes in the second question will become California's new governor.

Davis has called the recall effort "a hostile takeover" by Republicans. He added, "The voters have a right to have another election, and I will present my credentials. But I think at the end of the day, (the voters) will allow the state to go in the direction that I'm trying to lead it, not to slam it into reverse."

Davis contends that a recall election in October would cost the state about $35 million to conduct. He says that if the ballot were to be held at the same time as the March 2 presidential primary, the state could save that money.

However, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican who is challenging Davis in the recall vote, said that he "wanted this race as soon as possible because the people of California know that Gray Davis created the (budget) deficit; Gray Davis tried to cover it up - successfully covered it up in the last election - now that they know he lied, they also have begun to realize that he has no fix for the problem. So if you create a problem, lie about a problem, and have no fix for a problem, it's time for you to go as soon as possible."

Issa has spent $1.5 million of his own money to fund the recall - a move questioned by many Democrats. Feinstein said the recall "demonstrates that virtually anyone with $1.5 million can hire professional petition gatherers to produce enough signatures to force a recall of any state-elected officials. This sets a terrible precedent which ought to cause us all to think very carefully."

Now that the vote is scheduled, several other candidates besides Issa have been working to get on the ballot by Saturday, August 9 - the deadline for gubernatorial hopefuls to file their paperwork. In order to get on the recall ballot, a candidate needs to pay a $3,500 fee and obtain 65 signatures of his or her supporters. Among those planning to run are a model, a charity volunteer, and a teacher who says he wants his students to have a first-hand example of politics at work.

The state's major Democratic officeholders, including Feinstein, are not among those planning to put their names on the ballot. Strategists from both parties believe that Davis would be more likely to keep his job if there are no Democratic alternatives.

If Davis were to be ousted, he would be the second governor in U.S. history to be recalled from office. The first was North Dakota Gov. Lynn J. Frazier in 1921.