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Gray Davis should not be recalled

Scott Tibbs, August 14, 2003

California's provision for ballot initiatives is revolutionary. It allows many things to be accomplished that the political class, fearful of losing the next election, will not touch. The voters, however, have no election to stand for. Unless they make their position public, nobody need know where someone stands on the issue due to the secret ballot. California's direct democracy experiment initiated when the people were fed up with corruption at the turn of the last century.

This leads us to the recall election for unpopular California Governor Gray Davis. Davis has been a poor governor, and his leadership combined with the dot-com collapse, California's energy crisis, and the depression vexing the Golden State's economy has many people upset. Over 200 people filed to run for Governor in October's recall election should Davis lose his spot, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. But should Davis be recalled?


The people of California had a chance to get rid of him last year, but chose to keep him in office over conservative upstart Bill Simon. Now, things have gotten worse, and Davis' popularity has sunk to new lows. A millionaire Congressman financed the effort to gather enough signatures to put the recall on the ballot, and then dropped his campaign to replace Davis when Schwarzenegger entered the race.

The main problem with the recall is it undermines the electoral process. Having elections on a set timetable provides stability to government. If the recall succeeds and a Republican replaces Davis, you can be assured that California Democrats will jump at any opportunity to force another recall election as political payback. The use of the recall as a "political weapon of mass destruction" does not bode well for America politics.

Even now, many on the Left are advocating the President Bush be impeached, and Web sites like VoteToImpeach.org are campaigning to remove Bush from office. One cannot help but think that at least some of this enthusiasm is a desire for payback for the impeachment of disgraced ex-President Clinton.

The American electoral system is sound because of its stability. The makeup of government is based on elections held on a regular cycle. This allows people to keep their elected representatives on their toes while ensuring that government continues to operate in an orderly manner. In countries with a parliamentary system, new elections must be scheduled if the ruling coalition breaks apart. If there is a hot-button issue that the people want addressed but the political elite will not touch, California's statewide referendums provide an outlet for those issues.

The recall is further complicated by the fact that, while most of the candidates on the ballot will not be "serious" candidates, several major candidates are running and whoever wins will likely do so with a plurality, nothing close to an outright majority. Clinton had to overcome the fact that he was elected President in 1992 with 42% of the vote, and a Governor who takes office with 20% of the vote wil have no mandate to govern. If that Governor is a Republican, he will have even more difficulty overcoming the stigma of being illegitimate, especially since Davis (even though a majority of California's electorate voted against him) defeated Simon by six percentage points last November.

California voters do have an option of negating Davis and his policies. The entire State Assembly and half of the State Senate will be up for re-election in 2004, allowing voters to express displeasure with Davis by electing people opposed to his policies.

The American electoral system is too important to subject it to a "do over" if voters regret their decision a few months later. California voters should reject this recall effort and retain Gray Davis.