I’ve been answering a few questions for non-Californians who are trying to better understand just what is going on and why. Here’s my analysis of it, which I should warn includes some things that are more my point of view rather than incontrovertable fact.
Even the news stories that tell you why this is going on
tell it to you wrong.
Davis has never been a great governor or an inspiring guy.
True enough. Davis gets blamed for our energy problems of
a couple years back (which are really the fault of the
republican lawmakers who passed the partial deregulation),
and for our current budgetary situation (dismal, but certainly
not all his fault). Some folks point to the handling of this
year’s budget, but fail to note that the recall drive plans started
before that. And the energy situation (and the expensive fixes
that Davis was illegally pushed into implementing) was all
before he was reelected.
Here’s what’s really going down: in the 2002 election, Davis
was quite beatable. Now that’s saying something, because the
last California governor not to get a second term left office
in 1943. All the Republicans had to do was to put up someone
who looked vaguely competent, and they would have taken the
governorship. And they had such a person in the primary:
Richard Riordan, who had done at least a reasonably competent
job as mayor of LA, a tricky position.
But also in the primary they had Bill Simon, who ran a mudslinging
campaign against Riordan, and won. Then during the course of the
gubernatorial campaign, Simon not only was involved in something
of dubious ethics but also showed a lack of organization, and
then he failed to take responsibility for it. He made himself
look criminal, incompetent, and irresponsible all at once, and
it didn’t even take a particular negative push from Davis to
So Davis, for whom there was no great love, managed to defeat
Simon. And a wealthy Republican named Darrell Issa saw his
opportunity. For a handful of millions of dollars, well less
than the cost of running a proper gubernatorial campaign, he
could get the signatures for a recall petition. And then, he
probably reckoned, given an opportunity to put someone who
was not Bill Simon into office, the people of CA would
grarefully dump Davis and usher in Issa. And hey, who in the
Republican party would even bother mounting much of a campaign
against Issa, when he was doing so much good for them?
Well, it looks like people were glad to have the chance to
put someone who wasn’t Davis or Simon in the seat, but they
had no love for Issa and his transparent motives. Besides,
folks like Arnie who had been eying the governership for so
long saw this as their chance. And hey, for $3500, anyone
could be a candidate and why not try? So we got the circus,
and Issa realized that he would be utterly lost in it, so
he dropped out.
Davis is still governor until the vote… and he may still
be governor after the vote. There are two questions about
the governorship on the ballot, which boil down to this:
- Should Davis be recalled?
- If Davis is recalled, who should replace him?
If most of the people vote “No” to question 1, then Davis is
still governor and question 2 is moot. If “Yes” wins, then
the top vote-getter from among the 135 ballot candidates
and any write-in candidates for question 2 wins and
immediately (upon certification of the election) becomes
governor. Davis is not eligible to be on the ballot for #2
(it still is not clear to me whether he is eligible as a
Given the large number of candidates and the reasonable
number of viable recognizable candidates, it is likely that
Davis will get a larger minority of the vote (via question 1)
than the person who replaces him (via question 2). If this
is democracy at work, I don’t see it.
And here’s something else to realize: if Davis looked weak
after taking the governorship with a majority of the vote
in 2002, just how weak is the new governor going to look
with probably about 25% of the vote? I can guarantee you
that the day after the election, there will be a drive
started to recall the new governor, whoever it is. I’m
not certain that they will get enough signatures and much
less that the recall will pass, but the drive will happen.
And this will keep happening until someone changes the law,
something that the populace will likely be glad to see by
I’ve seen people try to describe this as Californians deciding
that they made the wrong decision last election. That is not
true. Given the choice between Davis and Simon, they chose
Davis, and they’re actually sticking by that at this point.
Simon is one of the recall candidates, and in the last poll
I saw his expected vote totals were less than a quarter of
the total number who want to keep Davis in office.