THE CALIFORNIA RECALL OF GOVERNOR GRAY DAVIS: Good Government or Nightmare?
Oct 5, 2003 (Updated Oct 9, 2003)
Popular Products in BooksThe Bottom Line The California Governor Recall Law, as presently written, is Bad Government and a Bad Precedent. Frustrated voters may exercise both, picking a man who is part of the original problem.
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Fellow Epinionator and Ohioan Bryan Carey asked me yesterday to send him my opinion on the Recall of Governor Gray Davis. He suggested, graciously, that he would be interested in the take of a perceptive California resident on the "circus" the rest of the Nation has been observing. I produced a rant which I have just sent off to him. It occurs to me now that, ill-researched, poorly written, scarcely coherent as it may be, the piece may represent the mixed feelings of an average California voter.
With no apologies (that is to say, more than I can express, at the last minute), here are my humble observations on the either crazy, noble, dangerous, or momentous Recall Election in California, Tuesday, October 7, 2003:
I have always thought of Gray Davis as "The Perfect Political Bureaucrat." If one follows his career from being an aide to Governor Jerry Brown over 30 years ago until today, it is a career of slavish attention to detail, getting jobs done by the book (wherever some of the chips fall) and moving upwards politically. When he put himself into contention for Governor of California, I told my friends and acquaintances that I thought he would likely to win the nomination and the post. I was at first derided but then seen (briefly) as the new Nostradamus. (I received a position as a political consultant on the strength of that one prediction. What I learned from the experience, is that I should learn to predict how not to support incompetent and unreliable jerks. You are therefore warned about the rest of this "essay.")
As Governor, the quiet Gray Davis systematically began to use State monies, some of it hoarded by Governors Dukmejian and Wilson to their backers by over the previous 12 years, but mostly the largesse of the booming Clinton Economy. Davis characteristically addressed what he considered his governmental priorities. First, he rather evenhandedly rebated revenues back to taxpayers (by exercising a State provision, for instance, which allowed him to roll back car license fees, if there was a budget "surplus"), and he restored the mandate of the State Constitution -- and an Initiative (Prop 98) -- to put half the State income into the Public Schools. He steered much of the rest of the money into pet projects for his political and financial base (i.e., raising the salaries of prison and law enforcement officers, who had heavily supported him). Never having been particularly cozy with Democrat leaders in the Legislature, (Democrats control both Houses), he angered some by not supporting enough their priorities (Highways and Mass Transit, for instance, or city and county government). And of course, Republicans were furious that for the first time in a dozen years, they were not in charge of the Pork Barrel.
Then, two disasters happened. One might have been foreseen, the collapse of the Dot. Com bubble, but if you will remember, in 2000, economic "experts" were widely predicting that "history had been repealed" and "there is no top to this Market!" The other should have been considered when 100% of the Democrats in the Legislature joined all the Republicans in passing the deregulation of electricity and gas in the State, just before Davis entered the Governorship. In those days, "Deregulation" was looked upon rather idiotically as the panacea to all economic problems. And so, Power followed the Post Office, the Telephone Company, the Railroads, the Airlines, and other services which were once, at least broadly, considered "Public Utilities." Looking at how economical and efficient deregulation made those other services (ho-ho!), the Democrats at least might have considered that the Energy Deregulation law, as written, might be manipulated in such a way to hold hostage the citizens of California.
In the first instance of miscalculation, revenues plummeted with the sinking economy, wiping out the surplus, and in the second, a real trap, energy suppliers in the Southwest rigged energy reserves, in time-honored but probably illegal fashion, to gouge PG&E or other California power and gas companies, who threw up their hands, refused to make the "buys" and considered bankruptcy. To stop blackouts and brownouts plaguing California in the Summer of 2001 [similar but not so severe as the recent one in our Northeast], the State went into debt to keep the lights on. Davis characteristically, wearing both political belt and suspenders, over-paid the Energy suppliers in negotiations, while driving a Herculean effort to accelerate bringing on-line power plants already under construction within the State.
Since then, there have been no blackouts, but Davis's political enemies have blamed him for paying too much for the energy, and the California economy continues to sink. Unemployment stands in the State at 6.2% (with many more ex-workers no longer counted, having been out of work over two years), and the huge increase in "War on Terrorism" Federal Defense funds, though heartening to some firms in Silicon Valley or places like Long Beach, has not been so heavily invested by the Bush Administration in California as was done by LBJ, Ronald Reagan or George H. W. Bush. The upper middle class is doing well, but the bulk of Californians are not.
Davis, standing for re-election eleven months ago, estimated the Deficit in California was about 30 billion dollars. The independent State Auditors said he was exaggerating; it was "only" 25 billion. After he was elected a second time, the economy continued to go south, as the Bush Administration refused (quite understandably) to bail Davis and the State Democrats out on their Energy agreements, and the Deficit was estimated early this Summer at 38 billion. Because the State constitutionally cannot pass an unbalanced budget, Davis has bloodily driven the figure down. The Democrats in Legislature have not wanted to slash programs, and the Republican minority has had enough strength to stifle most increased revenues. Nevertheless, Davis got the deficit down to perhaps eight billion, which is being finessed into forward years with bond indebtedness, and he so, he was re-elected after a bitter campaign, in which the Republicans put up a wealthy nonentity, Bill Simon.
Among the costs to Davis, of course, has been that he has been forced to exercise a safety provision of the Motor Vehicle Licensing Law, which requires him to eliminate the cuts in car license fees he made when there was a budget surplus. Given normal inflation, an arcane formula in the Law, and the recent popularity of large, expensive SUV's among the employed middle class, the fees are now much higher for many car owners than they were over three years ago, when he lowered the fees. Very hard on citizens who own two or more cars, rather common here.
Many Californians, for whom more and bigger are unfortunately often seen as better, have been unhappy with these results.
Davis has also signed a bill (which he vetoed twice earlier) allowing illegal aliens in the State (who pick a majority of our crops, build most of our houses, cook and serve our restaurant food, etc.) to have legal drivers licenses, thus enhancing revenues. The widespread prejudice against Latinos, Asians and anyone who might conceivably be an Arab, has fueled outrage at this move. The charge is that the illegals will somehow use the licenses to vote illegally, presumably for Davis. [The logical solutions for the illegal immigrant problem (basically a Federal responsibility] are either too expensive, too politically dangerous, or too disruptive.)
These two acts may be the final nails in Davis's coffin.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR DAVIS: He is a man not many people would want to cozen to, but given the hand he was dealt, the thoroughly experienced Davis has been a good Governor, as the public concluded when they re-elected him handily eleven months ago. Not a man of great personality, but a truly tireless political worker, a good family man, and one scrupulous in executing the Laws of California, Davis is, in part, taking a bad rap for the mistakes and machinations of his political friends and his political enemies in both Parties.
Where does Arnold Schwartzenegger come into all of this?
His is a curious case. Let us set aside the canard that his father, a member of the Austrian police during World War II, was a longtime member of the Austrian Nazi Party, or (for the moment, at least) that Hitler was one of his youthful heroes, or the rumor that he admires the Austrian neo-nazi leader Jorg Haider.
The fact, however, is that Arnold Schwartzenegger obviously admires power and strength. From his earliest interviews, he has spoken of his literal dreams of being a dictator or someone else of supreme strength. Product of a dominant father and submissive mother, he has been quoted as saying that 95% of the people are followers, easily led by charismatic leaders. He has boasted that he is one of the five percent destined to lead. And so, whether or not he has been an admirer of Adolph Hitler, he is an obvious Authoritarian.
In these early interviews, he spoke of using his Body Building success, much admired in his home of Austria, to take him to Hollywood, with expressed hopes, early on, of a later career in business or politics. As a matter of record, he is close to accomplishing all of his ambitions.
The accusations against him of sexism are related to his will to power. *Eleven women so far who claim he accosted them -- the earliest in the 1970's to the latest just two years ago -- speak of his testing them, seizing them unawares, often from behind. Though most of the women come from show business, they also include a waitress, a radio journalist, and a talk show psychologist.
[The latter individual, Dr. Joy Brown, tells of how Schwartenegger insisted that she return to him a document (connected with an interview) at his hotel. When she arrived, accompanied by her little girl, she was directed to his room. When,holding a bottle of champagne, Schwartznegger opened the door, he suggested "the little girl take a walk for half an hour." She, of course, demurred.]
All of the women, including one who says she slapped his face, observe that, after a tentative or overt assault, he hurried away, often with a boyish laugh.
The Candidate for Governor of California admits "where there is smoke, there is fire, and that he has "behaved badly." Although at least one of accusations dates from 2000, Schwartenegger insists on protesting that he "can't be expected to remember things which happened 15 or 20 years ago."
These are actions of a man who has never grown up emotionally. (There are many of us, but we are fortunately not suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the Sixth Largest Economy in the World [California]. Such a political accident is one of the dangers of democracy, as Germany found out in 1933.) On present evidence, he is not so much a sexual predator as a bully, obsessed with power, and bent on humiliating others less strong than himself.
[For those who decry the election of Bill Clinton, when the public knew of admitted sexual indiscretions, they may be about to repeat the mistake.]
Schwartzenegger's personality matches the movie roles he has taken: Hulking Cyborgs and big childish men.
He has boasted of his prowess as a businessman, but it would seem that his fortune comes from making 30 million a film with his steroid bulked body, being canny in meeting powerful business people, marrying well into a politically well-connected family, and having a good business manager.
Ironically, the most serious charge against Schwartzenegger, one concerning his business activities, has not resonated with talk show hosts, reporters or the voting public at all:
In May 2001, Arnold Schwartzenegger attended a meeting called by a group famous business speculators, past and present, at a hotel outside of Los Angeles. Popular sports figures such as Magic Johnson mixed with Junk Bond King Michael Miliken and Enron's Ken Lay. It is said that the purpose of the meeting was to launch a campaign to exploit the energy needs of the State of California. Schwartzenegger has said that, looking at the records of the meeting, he has been surprised that Ken Lay was among the 30 present. He does not recall what the meeting was about.
If the account is true, it would mean that the incipient Governor of California was present at a planning session for the Energy Crisis which caused the situation he is now running to correct. Definitely a conflict of interest, but he does not remember why he was there.
Here, then, is another pattern: Yes, he committed certain acts. Yes, he was in certain places. Yes, he has certain plans. But he either doesn't remember or he doesn't care about the details. He says that people really don't care about details. (He has refused to reveal the sources of his sudden *$10,000,000 war chest, saying: "The people don't care about all that. Time enough to sort that out after I'm elected." Nor will he further, or specifically, answer charges of casual sexual assaults on women "until after the election.)
Not to worry, you who live in the rest of America say, because he will likely never hold National office, and because he is foreign-born, he can never be President?
But wait. . . .
Note, that Arnold Schwartzenegger's longtime political friend Republican Senator Orin Hatch of Utah has recently introduced a Constitutional Amendment in the Senate to repeal the bar to foreigners holding the Presidency.
On the positive side, though there were a number of reports a couple of months ago that the Maria Shriver Schwartzenegger and her family had begged him not to run, she has been solidly behind him in his brief campaign.
And despite aspersions that he has been a Nazi sympathizer, he can point to endorsements from a number of Jewish organizations to whom he has made scrupulous financial donations to their searches for escaped war criminals over the years. (Critics say these donations were calculated to counter charges about his fascist tendencies.)
And Schwartenegger made his initial political move last year by sponsoring a successful State Initiative mandating after school activities for children. Unfortunately, the Initiative did not provide funds for implementing the program, and it has languished since then.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR ARNOLD SCHWARTZENEGGER: He is an unqualified candidate who could never have been nominated to vie for the Governorship in a regular election. However certain of the charges made against him may be discounted, they are sufficient to raise doubts about his political suitability, and his personal stability. His ten point plan for his first hundred days in the California Governorship, I might observe, is largely impossible to implement, as we may begin to learn next month.
And what of the Recall itself?
One of the unique Populist measures put through by Governor Hiram Johnson in 1911, the Recall Law has never been tested. As it stands, the Governor can be removed for virtually no reason at all.
A California Governor has never been recalled under the measure.
As it stands, and as a precedent, it is Bad Government. The Law needs to have a bill of particulars added to it, so that it cannot be used on a whim, as a "dirty trick," or as a conspiratorial manipulation.
The present California Recall provision stresses personality over experience and qualification. Should the voters want an experienced, qualified Governor, other than Davis, they would be better to pick either the Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, the distinguished Conservative Republican Senator Tom McClintock, or the truly innovative Green Party Candidate, Peter Comejo.
They appear to be going for a power-obsessed actor, who has emulated in Movies the Teutonic Heroes of his Fatherland.
If we can believe the Polls, the voting public is going to recall Governor Gray Davis and pick Schwartzenegger's authoritarian Celebrity Personality over at least two really qualified political leaders.
THE BOTTOM LINE FOR THE RECALL: If the Recall passes on Tuesday, October 7, 2003, no matter who replaces Gray Davis, an unfortunate precedent will have been established for California, perhaps for the United States of America.
I hope it is all a bad dream, and that we wake up on Wednesday to a warm Indian Summer California morning, the political landscape, torn up as it is, intact.
UPDATE -- Tuesday, October 7, 2003:
*The eleven women became 15, and then last night, 16, one claiming that in the production of his latest film, he made Bob Packwood-type advances. The LA Times, the unpopular messenger of these charges, came in for criticism for breaking the story so late, though some of the story was published as long ago as a March 2001 Premiere Magazine article. The other side brought up charges that Governor Davis has a history of shouting obscenities and throwing ashtrays at his employees and associates.
**Arnold Schwartznegger's Campaign Fund, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, grew in a couple of days from about 5 million dollars to 10 million, at the time I wrote this article, to over 18 million as of today. Gray Davis's Fund, in the same period, went from six million to 14 million.
The ratio suggested some people thought Mr. Schwartzenegger was going to win.
The Chronicle estimated that a total of 58 million was contributed, all in all, to the campaigns during the Recall's seven week timespan.
It's all moot now.
UPDATE -- Wednesday, October 8, 20003: I am reminded of the wonderful sight gag in CITIZEN KANE, in which after Charles Foster Kane loses his bid for Governor of New York, his factotum Berstein chooses FRAUD AT THE POLLS, rather than KANE WINS!
We can't do that. "The people have spoken!" They chose to recall Governor Davis and to replace him with Arnold Schwartznegger. No talk of fraud here; it was a landslide on both counts. (Only in my home, the City and County of San Francisco, did 80% vote AGAINST the Recall.)
Well, first of all, if you don't live in California, the Recall is still a wild and crazy entertainment, one that will amuse you for several years to come. If Mr. Scwartzinegger is at all successful, or if he can be made to appear he is successful, a political bandwagon, might carry to fruition Senator Orin Hatch's Constitutional Amendment allowing Governor Scwartznegger to run for the Presidency in 2004. Then, the nightmare may be shared by us all.
Meanwhile, Californians must wish him well. He tells us that he wants to bring us all together, to work with and for everyone, "for The People."
Whether or not the result will be Good Government, a Splendid Dream or a Nightmare of Incompetence is up to Fate.
For Macresarf1's views, analysis, and predictions from the Presidential Election of 2000, to to the hyperlink below. [Even though in those innocent days, I thought a book title was a subject, I didn't do too badly. However, I never considered the possibility that we would use a tribal attack as an excuse to create a world empire. After all, war and foreign policy were hardly emphasized in the 2000 Campaign. Both Candidates spoke of co-operating with our Allies, and either putting limits on "nation building," or avoiding it all together. Then again, that really fit into my thesis about how it was unwise to believe that the Presidential candidates could carry out their programs, no matter who was elected. Unfortunately, the proof of the thesis encourages our weakness for making political decisions on a basis of image, wish-fulfillment and personality.]:
If you wish to explore a majority of Macresarf1's reviews, indexed by title and category, many with URL's, go to the following hyperlink --