Does America need a recall?

Posted: Oct 13, 2003 12:00 AM

"Now that the miserable recall experience is over," is how David Broder mordantly began his Washington Post column on the grass-roots uprising that ousted Gov. Gray Davis of California.

In calling this populist uprising a "miserable" experience, Broder speaks for an elite that denounced the recall as a "circus" and "chaos." He does not speak for the people.

The people loved it. The recall was topic number one on the beaches and at the bars. Arnold Schwarzenegger drew crowds like a presidential candidate in the last days of a winning campaign. The media poured in from all over the nation and the world. Sunday talk shows and cable TV gave the recall blanket coverage. Voter interest was intense, and the turnout tremendous.

Yet Broder dismisses it all as a "misguided effort."

But why misguided? Why should voters not have the right to correct a mistake by recalling a governor who deceived them about the largest deficit in state history? Why shouldn't voters have the right to turn in a lemon they bought from a used car dealer who did not tell them it had a cracked engine block?

The voters, says Broder, were given a "rotten choice among two Democrats, Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz M. Bustamante, both widely viewed as corrupted by campaign cash, and one Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been repeatedly accused of being a sexual predator."

But if Davis is "corrupted by campaign cash," why should voters have to abide him three more years? And why is it a "rotten choice" when the two top Democrats in state government are on the ballot along with 135 other names? Among those names were Rep. Darryl Issa, Bill Simon, the 2002 gubernatorial candidate for the GOP, Peter Ueberroth, who was hailed for his running of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and state Sen. Tom McClintock, one of the most articulate conservatives in California.

Ueberroth dropped out. Issa and Simon endorsed Arnold because they believed California was desperately in need of a new direction and Arnold might provide it. Sen. Diane Feinstein, the most popular Democrat in the state, could have been on the ballot, but she turned down every entreaty. Whose fault is that?

What, then, is Broder's objection? It is the objection of an elite that loathes the idea of a people seizing control of their destiny through such populist measures as the initiative, referendum and recall, all the legacy of the Progressive Era of a century ago.

Yet, the measures David Broder deplores are the very safety valves of democracy. They are needed now more than ever. For there is a seething hostility in America toward an elite that refuses to deal with the twin crises of the country and California: the massive invasion of poor immigrants, legal and illegal, that is bankrupting states, and the hemorrhaging of jobs to Latin America, Asia and China because of trade deals negotiated by Bush I & II and Bill Clinton.

Americans have said in every way possible they want the invasion halted and the export of manufacturing jobs ended. Americans never voted for open borders, NAFTA or GATT.

Californians are to be commended, not condemned, for signing petitions in the millions to hold an election to fire Davis. But there is a serious question whether any governor, no matter how courageous, can resolve the crisis California confronts.

For no governor can halt the export of jobs when the cost of manufacturing in China is one-tenth what it is in the Golden State. Only a president can do that. No governor can stop the invasion of California by poor immigrants whose consumption of tax dollars is bankrupting the state. Only the Feds can do that by enforcing laws they refuse to enforce. And no governor can halt the exodus of taxpayers from Mexifornia to Nevada, Idaho, Arizona and Colorado.

Having faced a $38 billion deficit in 2003, California may face a $20 billion deficit in 2004. And as Arnold is committed to repealing the tripling of the car tax under Davis, this will cost the state treasury another $4 billion.

Absent a revival in the national economy that would help fill California's coffers with new tax revenue, there are only two ways this deficit can be closed: tax hikes, which the governor-elect has pledged to oppose, and deeper cuts in state spending. Yet, those cuts are likely to accelerate the exodus.

As for the recall, let us hope the idea spreads eastward and imperils every governor who behaves as Gray Davis did. For, as Jefferson wrote to Madison only six years after the guns fell silent in the Revolution, "I hold it that a little rebellion, now and again, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."