A Circus Without Solutions
Los Angeles Times
Friday 08 August 2003
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in declining Wednesday to run for governor, lamented that the Oct. 7 recall election was becoming "more and more like a carnival every day." And that was before actor Arnold Schwarzenegger ended his slow striptease of refusal, announcing during a late-night entertainment show that he will run for governor after all. The Terminator promised, "I will go to Sacramento and I will clean house." Then, anticlimactically, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante shattered the fragile Democratic unity, offering himself as a candidate to replace a governor he served but never liked.
Carnival? Circus? How about action comics? WHAP! BAM! BIFF! POW! TAKE THAT, CALIFORNIA!
Democrat John Garamendi, the state insurance commissioner and a frequent candidate, was in, and Rep. Darryl Issa, who bankrolled the recall petition campaign, was out. The California Supreme Court rejected a series of lawsuits challenging the recall and seeking to delay it. Several cases remain before the federal courts, but each decision moves the election closer to reality.
Schwarzenegger even parodied himself, promising to launch a nationwide drive to kick incompetents out of office with a snarled "Hasta la vista!"
The tabloid festivities cloud some painful truths. Gov. Gray Davis' failure to grapple with the energy and budget crises quickly is not cause for a recall. Nor is dislike of his cold style, something voters were fully aware of when they elected him twice. If recall can be initiated for so much less than outright malfeasance, it is a weapon that guarantees only the reckless will run for office.
Schwarzenegger has name recognition and plenty of his own money to finance his campaign. But he owes Californians more than tough talk about cleaning house and kicking out the special interests. He, along with the scores of other would-bes, hasn't told voters how the budget problem can be solved and how the schools can be made better. And no Republican candidate has yet to say how a GOP governor could carry out promises with a Legislature full of angry Democrats.
The root of California's problems is not its governor. It is in large part the voters themselves.
Voter-approved initiatives over three decades have hamstrung government and assured gridlock. They include term limits that guarantee inexperienced legislative leadership; Proposition 13, which aside from cutting property taxes crushed local governments' ability to pay for services; Proposition 98, which dictated school spending. Schwarzenegger himself helped hobble the schools with an initiative requiring after-school programs. The approval of Indian casino gambling gave the state nothing in return.
Yes, state government needs sweeping structural reform. The recall instead sets up a vendetta.
In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt endorsed the direct democracy program of fellow Progressives, including the ability to recall. But he also cautioned that ballot initiatives and recalls used "indiscriminately and promiscuously on all kinds of occasions would undoubtedly cause disaster."
California's recall law is peculiarly subject to abuse, because it is relatively cheap to buy enough signatures to qualify the recall and the law specifies an immediate election for a successor in which almost anyone can run. The recall is an unpredictable ballot gamble, a hand that shouldn't be played.