George Will

BORREGO SPRINGS, Calif.--From here in the southern desert to the Oregon border, California is feeling faint tremors of a possible political earthquake. A state tradition from the early 20th-century, plebiscitary democracy, is being fueled by the synergism of two late 20th-century developments, talk radio and the Internet. The result may be the recall of Gov. Gray Davis, who last November won re-election with just 47 percent of the vote.

California is stewing in its own juices. Hiram Johnson, governor from 1911 to 1917, helped institutionalize such populist devices as the initiative, referendum and recall. Eight decades later Silicon Valley helped democratize the personal computer.

And so, in the first 96 hours after Howard Kaloogian recently established the Web site, he spent many hours in his San Diego County home doing telephone interviews with talk radio programs, many of whose listeners were in cars, on freeways congealed with congestion. Oh, California.

And he says that after 96 hours his Web site had 500,000 hits. Kaloogian, an ebullient 43-year-old attorney and former state legislator, says recall fever is spreading across the Internet ``like a good joke or a bad virus.''

Recall efforts flourish like avocados in California. There have been 32 recall drives against California governors, including every governor since Edmund Brown in 1960. But no effort has made it to a vote. This one might, because even Davis' supporters dislike him, and because of the state's budget crisis. Its size astonishes the nation, and Californians are especially astonished because Davis said during last fall's campaign that all was well.

The deficit is at least $35 billion. So it may be about a third of the 50 states' estimated cumulative deficits, currently $90 billion or more.

The woes of the dot-com and high-tech sectors have disproportionately hurt California, and capital gains tax revenues are way down. Nevertheless, state revenues have risen 28 percent since 1998--which is not as fast as Davis has spent. To close the budget gap, which the state constitution requires, he will have to raise many taxes and fees and cut many programs, and every act will create potential recruits for the recall movement.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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