Recall madness

Posted: Jun 13, 2003 12:00 AM

Insiders say the recall of Gov. Gray Davis is inevitable. It's a revolution -- the people of California speaking out, as they did when they passed Proposition 13.

No matter that the GOP Einsteins who thought up the recall never really had a plan. They had a swell idea. It felt good. That was enough.

They say it's the people's right to oust a politician who misled the public and put the state budget $38 billion into the hole.

Yes, it's a right, except that anyone who was paying attention knew there would be a record budget shortfall, and Davis -- like his opponents -- would be mushy on tough budget issues until after the election. And except that voters got what they were asking for when they elected an ultra-liberal Legislature. Of course, the state budget grew from the $71 billion in 1998 to the $100-billion monster budgets under Davis.

The folks who launched the Good Ship Recall somehow are convinced that California voters, who didn't elect a single Republican to statewide office in November, are going to opt for a GOP governor in a recall election.

OK. They easily could be right about a recall-elected Repub -- if Arnold Schwarzenegger jumps into the race. But T-3 isn't conservative enough for the recall crowd.

Without Ah-nold, the GOP field will feature a pathetic parade of losers. Start with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who seems poised to replace Bill Simon as the Official Embarrassment of the California Republican Party -- by putting $1 million or so into a campaign that will undoubtedly get someone else elected.

Simon is too painful to discuss. Former L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan and former Secretary of State Bill Jones, a great guy and solid pol, lost to the novice Simon. ('Nuf said.) State Sen. Tom McClintock lost a bid for state controller, the job he was made for.

OK, maybe one of these guys could win -- if U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sits out the election. After all, these guys would be running against the likes of Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Treasurer Phil Angelides and Attorney General Bill Lockyer. And any one of them could win with as little as 20 percent of the vote.

But then, the Dems will wage their own recall campaign.

And while conventional wisdom says the recall succeeds if it qualifies for the ballot, I'm not convinced. For the next few months, there will be a squeaky little voice dismissing the recall as "sour grapes" and reminding the voters that Gray Davis won the governor's office "fair and square." Davis will say that it's wrong to overturn the will of the voters, and he will be right.

GOP strategist Ken Khachigian, who is advising Issa, bristles at that argument. If Team Davis thinks recalls are wrong because they overturn elections, Khachigian challenged, Davis' folks should prove it by putting "together a constitutional amendment to repeal the recall. That's what I suggest they do, say that people have no right to recall any governor, so that you can have the most utterly corrupt and incompetent governor that we've had, and he's immune from sanctions."

Or voters could look at the motley field of candidates -- if Ah-nold and DiFi aren't in it -- and figure, hey, maybe Davis isn't so bad. It's not fair that he has to defend himself against rich guys who are trying to buy a big office.

That is, after all, how Davis the Underdog won the Demo primary in 1998. That's how Davis beat Simon in November. If the tactic works again, the recall could transform Davis from the governor with the worst poll ratings ever -- a lousy 28 percent approval, according to the Public Policy Institute of California -- to Gumby the Giant Recall Slayer.