Like it or not, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa spent a portion of his vast wealth on a petition drive to recall Gov. Gray Davis. That was his right under California law. Davis and his paid Democratic hatchet men can gas on and on about how the recall is a sinister plot by Republicans to reverse a legitimate election, but all Issa did was take advantage of widespread dissatisfaction with California's leadership. Yes, Issa paid the signature gatherers, but the 1.3 million valid voter signatures are real. And they mean something.
We hope the recall, as tedious as it has become, ultimately serves as a wakeup call for politicians in Sacramento that we're sick and tired, and we have little to no trust that decisions are made based on what is right and good for the state's citizens.
Speaking of decisions, we have an important one to make on Oct. 7. Does Gray Davis deserve to be ridden out of Sacramento on rail, and in the event that more than half of us think the answer is yes, who should be chosen to replace him as governor?
Let's look at the choices before us:
Independent Arianna Huffington, in CityBeat's view, speaks the truth whenever she opens her mouth, which is quite often. She rightly argues that the American political system, though based on good and decent principles, no longer seems to work for good of common constituents; rather, it works in favor of those who can buy access to it. She is right when she says special interests run California: Unions, the insurance industry, the medical industry, big business, political insiders and, most recently, the Indian tribes-in short, whomever has money.
Huffington is right when she says we'll never achieve true reform until we fix the way our leaders are chosen. That is true not only for California, but also for every state in the nation and our federal government.
Huffington certainly has a huge ego, but she has been mistakenly dismissed in this campaign. Thanks to the mainstream media, most voters probably don't know that she is a Cambridge-educated economist and an accomplished author on an eclectic array of topics. In addition to her books, she has tirelessly produced a syndicated column that serves as an ongoing critique of a shameful political system.
But Huffington should not be the next governor of California. She can do the most good for this country as an activist and antagonist of Congress and the Bush Administration.
Republican State Sen. Tom McClintock makes just enough sense to be dangerous. He certainly understands how government works, and he is no idiot. We believe he could go into Sacramento and find tons of government waste-perhaps, as he claims, billions of dollars' worth. In last Thursday's debate, he was the best prepared candidate in discussing one of the state's most vexing problems: the economic relationship between the state and local governments.
McClintock has always been a straight shooter-and that is a rare and admirable quality in politics-but we can't say we like where he's shooting. We believe McClintock would attempt to lower taxes and fees to a point where the state would struggle to find enough revenue to fund the most basic public services. His anti-tax crusade has reached surreal proportions.
But McClintock is truly at his scariest when it comes to social issues. He is far outside the mainstream with his views on abortion (he's pro-life) and the environment (he doesn't even seem to acknowledge its importance, unlike the vast majority of voters). He is downright mean-spirited when it comes to caring for the children of undocumented immigrants, and he shows no understanding of the economic realities dividing California and Mexico. As for health care, he would be a pawn of the insurance industry.
With hard-right McClintock as governor and a largely progressive Legislature, California would grind to a halt. The only positive result of a vote for him would be a vote taken from Arnold Schwarzenegger....
Someone please tell us why Schwarzenegger is being taken seriously. (And stop calling him an "actor." He is not an actor; he is a Hollywood celebrity, and why on earth would we want one of them in the governor's chair?) Schwarzenegger has failed to tell us why he should be governor. He has no ideas. He has shown no vision. All he has told us is that he wants to be governor, and that he is afraid to debate his opponents unless he is given the questions in advance. The Los Angeles Press Club held a debate that no one saw that was fascinating and enlightening. Schwarzenegger chose not to appear.
In the one debate he did agree to, he showed himself to be rather inarticulate and fairly ignorant of the complexities of the issues. He resorted to snappy one-liners and platitudes. His handlers have clearly helped him come up with rhetorical positions on the most obvious issues, but what do we really know about what he would do with a $100 billion government? If you're entertaining the idea of voting for him, please, do us all a favor and ask yourself a very hard question: Why? Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan would have been a much better choice, as would have Peter Ueberroth.
In 2002, CityBeat endorsed Green Party candidate Peter Camejo for governor, partially as a protest against the absurdly bad choice of Davis or Bill Simon, and partially because he was simply the best candidate. As with Huffington, we agree with much of what Camejo says. He wants to level the playing field-particularly in the area of taxation-and we're all in favor of that. But, also like Huffington, he has made it clear that his passions lay in the federal, not the state, realm. There's much talk of Bush, Enron and Iraq, but not enough California specifics.
In terms of the issues, a Cruz Bustamante governorship wouldn't be the end of the world. If you're coming from the progressive, populist side, as we at CityBeat are, he'd probably sign the right bills more often than the wrong bills.
However, like Davis (although not nearly to the same extent), Bustamante is awash in special-interest money. With the level of backing he's received from the Indian tribes, we could never be convinced that negotiations over casinos and gambling policy are above reproach.
Worse yet is another association of his. His consultant and political advisor is Richie Ross, who personifies all that is wrong with California politics. Ross plays the power-insider game with Machiavellian relish. His clients include the Viejas and Barona Indian tribes (hmm... interesting), as well as the Consumer Attorneys of California, the California Applicants' Attorneys Association, the United Farm Workers and the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union. He's a lobbyist for special interests and a consultant who helps shapes public policy-and that's the Big Political Problem.
Bustamante himself, according to sharp-minded political writer Harold Meyerson, is not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. He's a career political hack, not the visionary problem solver we need. We fear little would change under his leadership.
So, that takes us to Gray Davis, the object of this freak show of worldwide interest, and whether or not he should be tossed out of the state capitol on his ear.
Without a doubt, Davis is a chump, and a political whore of the worst kind. Perhaps he was once better man, but politics and the high-stakes fundraising game have corrupted him. He is for sale to all of the high rollers in California, and he is a panderer. For an example of his political prostitution, look no further than the salary favors he has performed for the prison guards, and then look at how the prison guards union has stuffed Davis' campaign coffers with contributions. That's but an example. We've all seen the shameless pandering-signing a driver's license bill for undocumented immigrants at recall time after vetoing a better one when he wasn't in trouble.
Davis hasn't been all bad. As Meyerson wrote recently, during his term he has quietly signed a number of good, progressive bills. And the state's dismal economic condition is not all his doing-though he botched the energy crisis and did nothing to soften the impact the lousy national economy had on the state.
Voters need to ask themselves a couple of questions, beginning with, What are the offenses worthy of a recall? Out-of-whack priorities? Davis is guilty. Bungling of important issues? Guilty. Lying? Probably guilty, but that's an awfully slippery slope in American politics. Fraud or other criminal behavior? Probably innocent.
Next question: Will sacking Davis and replacing him with one of the aforementioned candidates immediately improve California's lot. We think not. Depending upon the results, the winner will make half the population feel better; the other half will feel worse.
To really make things better, we need economic recovery, genuine campaign-finance and lobbying reform, an overhaul of the way we reshape our legislative districts, an overhaul of the way our tax revenues are allocated around the state and more compassion for each other.
Do we love Gray Davis? Not by a long shot. Do we wish he weren't our governor? Yep. Do we support his recall? No, we just can't-not with this bunch of alternatives. We look at it this way: If we recall Davis and install Schwarzenegger or Bustamante, the new governor would enjoy a huge head start for the 2006 election-and possibly remain in office until 2010, or longer if the replacement is allowed to run again in 2010-and we can't live with that.
We thank Mr. Schwarzenegger-and Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt, Angelyne and porn star Mary Carey-for raising interest in state politics to unprecedented levels. Perhaps that interest won't wane in the three years leading up to the next election. But it likely will. The state's electorate will probably slip back into comfortable apathy and passive distrust of government.
In any case, CityBeat urges a "no" vote on the recall question and wishes Gray Davis the best of luck at redemption. As for choosing a replacement in the event of a successful recall, you'll have ask yourself the age-old question: Do I vote with my heart, or do I pick the candidate who has the best chance of defeating the candidate I can't stomach?
We at CityBeat are disgusted by the lesser-evil voting strategy, and we will never explicitly recommend it. However, reality is what it is. We prefer Camejo to Bustamante, but, obviously, Camejo can't and won't win. Bustamante can beat Schwarzenegger, especially if McClintock stays in the race.
It's your call. ©