Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Thursday, June 19, 2003
Total Recall

It is now widely seen as likely that attempts to recall Gray Davis will succeed in forcing an election. The question of who will be on the ballot is growing increasingly tangled.

Under state law, if the recall reaches the ballot, there will be one election, in which voters will vote yes or no on recall and vote at the same time for a new governor, the latter vote taking effect only if a majority back recall. That means there are no primaries - anybody who pays or obtains a certain number of signatures can be on the ballot. The candidate who gets the most votes wins, although, if the vote is split enough ways, the winning candidate might potentially draw 25% or less.

Darrell Issa, an extreme rightie and car alarm multimillionaire, will definitely be on the ballot. Failed and unpopular gubernatorial candidate William Simon will likely be there with him, competing for the same voters. Arnold Schwarzenegger, busy promoting T3, isn't saying what he'll do, but he certainly isn't ruling out a run.

Who will the Democrats put up against this? All Democrats are opposed to the recall, but clearly some prominent figure has to be on the ballot in case it passes. Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, Controller Steve Westly, and Treasurer Phil Angelides are all at least thinking about running for Governor in 2006, when Davis is out on term limits. Only Westly has said unequivocally that he won't go on the ballot. Lockyer and Angelides have sort of said they won't, but left a bit of possible wiggle room in their statements.

Clearly, both are eyeing Bustamante, who is known to be on unfriendly terms with Davis. It was Bustamante's refusal to join in a joint statement clearly denying an intent to run that led Lockyer and Angelides instead to issue separate, weaker statements. If Bustamante does get in through a successful recall, other Democrats will presumably have to put off plans to run until 2010.

The other candidate speculation has focussed on is Senator Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein has never, I believe, lost a statewide election - if she steps in, others will be far less likely to take on the person generally considered the state's most popular and successful politician. If she should run and win, she can, as Governor, appoint her own successor in the Senate. One scenario has her appointing Bustamante, in return for his promise not to run for Governor - with Feinstein in and Bustamante out, Lockyer and Angelides would certainly stay out, and Feinstein should win easily with the Republican vote split.

Either way, the recall could potentially backfire on Republicans. Bustamante has a strong position should he run, since he is very strong with the state's large Latino vote, reasonably popular with other Democrats, and running in a largely Democratic state. I believe there are currently no Latino Governors or Senators, and Bustamante, from either position, could be a strong help to Democrats in other states campaigning with Latino voters.