by Sean Scallon 08/16/03
When Progressives took the machinery of California's state government in 1910 away from the lumber barons, two forms of popular democracy, the recall and the ballot initiative, were introduced that allowed the public to circumnavigate entrenched interests in Sacramento. The effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis represents the final destination of failure after traveling the Progressives' road of good intentions.
Ideally, a recall should only be used to remove a public official that violates his oath of office, is corrupt, or is derelict in performing his duties. However, the reality of ballot recall as a way for partisans to attack their political opponents, is becoming all too clear. A full eight months after a regularly scheduled election was held, which re-elected Davis, warts and all, over his Republican opponent William Simon, Jr., the son of the former Treasury secretary, Davis' opponents, financed by a wealthy California congressman Darrell Issa, who has designs upon the governor's office himself, now are close to getting the nearly 900,000 signatures needed to force a recall election.
Davis' unpopularity over a nearly $40 billion budget deficit is undoubtedly fueling the recall drive. But Davis was already unpopular for many reasons, and yet his GOP opponents were so inept that they could not defeat him when the regular election took place. Now they wish, with a mere 900,000 signatures collected in parking lots across the state, to invalidate an election upon which over seven million voters took part. And, if the recall does take place, two question will be a part of the ballot: 1) Should Davis be recalled? and 2) With whom do you wish to replace him? A large number of candidates are planning to run, and all that's needed is a mere plurality to win. This is not the perversion of democracy, as Davis' supporters claim: It's the natural extension of pure democracy, where mere whims of popular expression, even by minorities of voters, can invalidate the will of other voters and where plurality is all that's needed to do so. Is this the "democracy" that its propoponents in government and think tanks wish to export to nations such as Iraq? In many cases, it's already there, in places popularly called banana republics.
That California is heading to such a standard in its government and politics is not surprising either, given the way that immigration has warped the character of the state. What is being done here, although not publicly discussed by anyone for fear of offending cultural taboos, is a last desperate stand by Republicans to keep the state from turning into a Democratic stronghold and patriots to save their state from turning into a third-world, socialist people's republic. By recalling and then defeating Davis, they believe they can reverse the tide. Although one can sympathize with their plight, the reality is, sadly, that they are kidding themselves. Since most of the top GOP leaders in the state, even those who called themselves "conservatives," are pro-immigration, it is doubtful they'll be any change at all in Sacramento even if Davis is "dumped" and replaced with someone like Issa or, even more fancifully, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is also doubtful that, even if a "conservative" is elected to the governor's chair, he would balance the state's budget with a shrinking tax base, thanks to the flight of its middle-class citizens and a growing number of persons needing the state government programs that those taxes finance. And because a mere plurality is all that's needed to get elected if Davis is removed from office, such a large field of candidate would fragment an already fragmented electorate and perhaps lead to the election of California's first minority governor, with 20 percent of the vote. Groups like La Raza and MEchA certainly have this in the back of their minds.
Even if successful, the recall will not change the cultural and political climate of California. Most of those who concluded that California is a lost cause have already departed for the Mountain West or Texas, and the rest will probably leave once they realize "democracy" can't cure the Golden State's ills and may very well make the situation worse. Such persons, looking for a new home, should become acquainted with the Free State Project.
Sean Scallon is a newspaper reporter from Ellsworth, Wisconsin.
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