"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing." -- Thomas Jefferson
GEORGETOWN, S.C. -- Usually, when I come to the beach for a short summer respite, I bring along a good novel or two -- something to entertain, maybe a mystery or a thriller. This week on the beach, I'm leaving the novels in the house, for they simply do not provide as much entertainment as the news coming out of California.
For political spectators, it just doesn't get any better than this. The most populous state in the nation -- with a reputation for setting political trends -- will hold an election this fall to potentially recall their arrogant and universally unpopular governor, Gray Davis. And, if they do, they'll replace him with one of the more than 120 candidates who are considering or already committed to running.
Davis, once hyped as a rising star of the Democrat Party, before his narrow re-election in 2002, was considered to be presidential timber. Today, Hollywood film stars, political power brokers and big money moguls are all scratching their heads trying to figure out what happened to Gray Davis. It's a regular "Whodunit," and there is no script for this pilot. Apparently, even the odds makers in Las Vegas have taken a pass on this one.
The last, and only, governor to be recalled was North Dakota's Lynn Frazier in 1921, who, like Davis, led his state into economic chaos. Will California make the Gray man number two in this pantheon of political luminaries?
If Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger threw his hat in the ring, it would almost surely happen. The Terminator has been toying with the idea of political office for years, and a special election, with the state in crisis, would be a natural for somebody with 100 percent name I.D. And Schwarzenegger, a native of Austria, could easily dismiss the charges of opportunism, claiming his only desire is to solve California's problems, because he is constitutionally barred from using the governor's mansion to seek the presidency.
But Schwarzenegger has a problem. He's married to Maria Shriver of the Kennedy political dynasty and is reportedly being told by his bride that making movies is fine, but don't think you can enter the "family business."
Not that that would leave a shortage of candidates on the Republican side. Former Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan says he may run if Arnold doesn't. Rep. Darrell Issa, who funded part of the recall effort from his own pocket, wants the job. Bill Simon, who narrowly lost to Davis, has filed papers, and state Sen. Tom McClintock is testing the water.
The Democrats, however, have problems that go beyond the governor's mansion. Davis backers contend the best way to defeat the recall is for Golden State Dems to remain united behind ol' Gray and keep all other Democrats off the ballot. But Reps. Loretta Sanchez and Cal Dooley, who "seriously doubts" that Davis can survive, have publicly urged Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- who is no fan of the governor -- to run for the job. Feinstein has thus far stayed mum about her intentions, but that could change if Arnold decides he won't be back. Feinstein fans see the October contest as an opportunity for her to oust Hillary as the Democrat's leading contender for the White House in 2008.
Another prominent Democrat who could give the Republicans trouble, but who has also been keeping his own counsel thus far, is San Francisco Mayor and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.
This California Circus is drawing all the clowns. Democrat operator Bob Mulholland -- a vast right-wing conspiracy theorist -- is vowing "no surrender" to the "Taliban element." Pro-abortionist Kate Michelman claims that "anti-choice activists have bought this election." Arianna Huffington, who can't decide on her party affiliation, thinks there is a constituency to ban SUVs and may run if she doesn't have to ride in a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.
Now the Beverly Hillbillies -- Bill and Hillary -- have announced their intentions to campaign against the recall. As of this writing, none of the Knucklehead Nine presidential candidates have figured out that strategically, they might be better off scoring points with the liberal Democrat establishment in the delegate-rich state instead of criticizing the American military in the heartland of the U.S.A.
Public outrage with Gray Davis is palpable. He is despised for his relentless fund raising and self-promotion. Borrowing a page from Al Gore's Buddhist fund-raising racket, Davis twisted the arms of the California Teachers Association during a 2002 policy briefing, demanding $1 million in contributions for his re-election effort. He even shook down students at the University of California-Berkley for $100 each to attend a speech.
But what's really driving the recall, as James Carville once said, is "the economy, stupid." California is saddled with a $38 billion budget deficit, despite candidate Davis's repeated denials of impending fiscal crisis. State spending, now at $100 billion, has skyrocketed 37 percent during his five years in office. Davis has proposed an $8 billion tax hike. He has proposed an increase in the state sales tax, a tripling of the state car tax, a 57 percent tax increase on cigarettes and a 64 percent increase on fees for community college students.
The recall election will take place on Oct. 7. It should be noted that on that same day in 1765, delegates from nine of the newly formed colonies convened the Stamp Act Congress in New York City and passed 14 declarations informing King George III and the British Parliament that they could not levy taxes on the colonies. The rest, as they say, is history.