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Today is the day of reckoning for the embattled California Governor Gray Davis as he faces the recall effort that seeks to end his tenure. That the policies of Davis’ short-lived second term—he was reelected less than a year ago—have been distressing may be an understatement. The repercussions of his recall, however, may take a far more harrowing toll on the stability of the Golden State as well as set an unwanted precedent for the office of Governor.
Proponents of the recall effort see the ability to un-elect an unpopular elected official as a panacea. As they describe it, the process institutes transparency in government, fosters accountability in offices obscured by impenetrable rhetoric and complicated economic policy and promotes direct democracy at its finest. Appealing as these ends may be, the recall makes a mockery of them.
Rather than promoting involvement in the political process, the current recall policy allows for blatant abuse of referendum. Sure, the people’s attention is momentarily diverted to the political arena—even the typically apathetic American public has tuned in to watch the multitude of candidates parade on television. But when women-groping, ex-Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger—with no real platform—is one of the leading candidates, it suggests that outrageousness, and not interest in the process, is drawing public attention.
As outrageous as the collection of seemingly uncountable candidates is, it pales in comparison to the recall system itself.
The official number of signatures needed to place the recall on the ballot was 897,158—less than 2.6 percent of California’s nearly 35 million people and just 12 percent of the state’s voter turnout in November 2002. With this unbelievably low threshold, it is unsettling to think what would happen if the same recall policy was applied to a President whose approval ratings fell below fifty percent. As opinion polls often fluctuate with considerable volatility, a recall available at the federal level could easily allow special interests groups to manipulate the process—all in the name of democracy.
Such is the situation in California where the current system allows a handful of political opponents to funnel money—namely, Rep. Darrell E. Issa who has stirred considerable controversy due to his extravagant financing—into the recall effort. This hardly encourages healthy accountability of officials; rather, it propagates a plutocracy that is anything but healthy for the preservation of democratic ideals.
Due to the inordinate number of candidates, the number of votes necessary to elect a replacement is far fewer than the number garnered by Davis in his recent reelection. But, the illogic doesn’t stop there. Voters will be given an opportunity to vote “yes” or “no” in support of the recall, even if Davis receives more “no” votes on the recall section than a candidate receives to be elected, the Governor still faces ouster.
The California recall effort has been a depressing display of opportunism and manipulation of the political process. The power grab that has ensued has been disgraceful waste of time, effort and money—the California Secretary of State estimates that the election will cost from $53 million to $66 million—that could have been allocated to programs that would actually benefit Californians.
California voters should reject this recall for the safety and stability of their government. They should not let special interests and capricious elections hijack the state government and they must amend this serious flaw in their Constitution to prevent future abuse by predatory politicians. If Arnold and the others have a genuine concern about California, they should run for governor in a real election in 2006.
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