California Recall, Part Two: The Replacement Candidates
By Jack Rabbit
On October 7, Californians will be asked two questions: First,
should Gray Davis be recalled as governor of California?
Second, from a list of candidates to replace Davis, who
should take his place as governor? Under California law,
Davis, as the target of the recall, cannot be a candidate
to replace himself. One need only vote yes or no on the first
question in order to vote on the second. The votes for the
replacement candidates will not be tallied unless the recall
This is the second of a two part series on the attempt to
recall Governor Davis in California. In the previous article,
the recall drive against Governor Davis, and the reasons his
opponents give for recalling him, was discussed. Today, we
will discuss some of the announced and possible candidates
attempting to replace Davis.
In Part One, we concluded that
a recall should only be used for demonstrably corrupt and
incompetent officials who are guilty of malfeasance in office.
It was also concluded that the case against Davis falls short
of this standard. However, each individual California citizen
who votes will determine for himself what are the criteria
for recall and whether, based on such criteria, Davis should
be removed from office. Polls as of now show that Davis will
have to fight an uphill battle to remain in office.
First, a few words about the potential Republican candidates
are in order.
Issa, a wealthy rightwing member of Congress from the
San Diego area, is the only announced major Republican candidate
as of this writing (Sunday afternoon). Issa bankrolled the
recall movement, which was floundering until he began injecting
$1.7 million of his personal fortune into the drive. Issa
wants to be governor of California and apparently sees the
recall as his best opportunity. In recent weeks, some baggage
from Issa’s past emerged: many years ago he was twice arrested
for grand theft auto, an interesting past for one who made
his fortune as the inventor of a car alarm system
Simon, who was the Republican candidate for governor against
Davis last year, is seriously considering another run at it
as a replacement candidate in the recall election. Simon should
get a clue. If Davis is as bad as the recall backers say he
is and Simon lost to Davis last year, then it must say a lot
about how the voters perceive Simon. Indeed, this is the overwhelming
verdict of political pundits of every stripe. Almost everyone
agrees that Simon ran the worst campaign of any candidate
for any office last year. There is no new website promoting
McClintock, a member of the state Senate from a suburban
district in Los Angeles County, is also considering a run.
McClintock bills himself as a spokesman for conservative issues,
with an emphasis on lower taxes.
Issa, Simon and McClintock are ideological triplets. All
three declare that they will solve California’s budget crisis
by lowering taxes. The good news is that they will be vying
for the same votes, reducing the chances that any of them
will win. The bad news is that if one of them does win, he
will push the same kind of fiscal responsibility on California’s
ailing finances that Mr. Bush has used to wash the federal
in red ink and tank the American economy.
In addition to the three rightwing Republicans, more moderate
Republicans may also be considering entering the race as replacement
candidates. Jack Kemp, the former Congressman, HUD Secretary
and 1996 Republican Vice Presidential nominee, was mentioned
earlier, but has announced over the weekend that he will not
be a candidate. Michael Huffington, the former GOP Congressman
and Senate candidate, is also said to be considering a run.
However, Huffington’s stock has fallen since he lost to Senator
Feinstein in 1994 and whether he would be considered a major
candidate could be disputed.
Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles who lost
to Simon in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2002, may still
want to make a run for Governor. Although a registered Republican,
Riordan is ideologically and politically independent. That
and his age (73) would prevent him from becoming a rising
star in GOP circles. Nevertheless, among the Republicans who
might run, he may be the most palatable to moderate Democrats.
Arnold Swarzenegger, the film actor, had been rumored for
some time to be considering a run for governor in 2006. He
is widely held to be a moderate Republican, but has no political
record on which to base this supposition.
In addition to the Republicans, there are two candidates
not affiliated with major political parties who could be major
players in the recall election.
Peter Camejo, the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate last
year, has announced that he will run as a replacement candidate.
Camejo and the Green Party took no position on the recall
during the signature-gathering phase, although he is known
to have given the move against Davis tacit support. Some of
reasons for desiring a recall of Davis are similar to
those given by the recall backers. Primarily, Camejo is upset
with the fact that on Davis’ watch a large budget surplus
has disappeared and a large deficit has taken its place. In
the first part of this series, we examined some of the reasons
for this: reduced federal aid and the California energy crisis.
Camejo, however, is not satisfied that Davis doesn’t bear
more culpability than this author ascribed to him in Part
Unlike the Republican candidates, for whom the state’s budget
crisis is nothing but a mantra for recall, Camejo discusses
the problem in concrete terms. He cannot understand how, in
a time when state income rose by almost 60 percent, the budget
surplus turned to a huge deficit. Camejo doesn’t use the word
“malfeasance” in attributing this phenomenon to Davis, but
he comes very close. Camejo, unlike many candidates who are
more likely to win an election, often offers concrete proposals
for solving problems. In this case, he proposes an independent
audit so that Californians will know where their money went.
This seems like a good idea. At least the people do have a
right to know how their money is spent. Perhaps whoever is
governor on October 8 – whether Camejo, Davis or one of the
Republican candidates – would be well advised to act on Camejo’s
Camejo is not a flaky third-party gadfly. He has some credible
expertise to talk about the state’s financial affairs as he
does. He is by profession a financial consultant and considered
an expert in the field of socially responsible investing.
While he is used to running in elections he has no hope of
winning (he was once the presidential candidate of the Socialist
Workers’ Party), he often addresses real concerns and makes
sensible, concrete proposals. This has earned him some respect
in unexpected quarters. Last year, he received the endorsement
of several small but ideologically mainstream newspapers in
California that were dissatisfied with the choice between
Davis and Simon. Among these was the Napa Valley Register,
endorsing Camejo gives good reasons for endorsing any candidate.
However, such an audit as the one that Camejo proposes will
not by itself bring the money back. Camejo has stated that
since those in the upper income brackets have had their federal
taxes reduced, the state could increase their state income
taxes. They would be paying no more taxes than they are now.
This proposal, while it would do something to close the budget
shortfall, will not do it all. Any realistic program to reduce
the budget deficit will have to involve both tax increases
and uncomfortable spending cuts. Where Camejo would make cuts
remains to be seen.
Although Camejo is impressive, he is aware that a more mainstream
candidate would have a better chance. While Camejo believes
that Davis should be recalled, he does not believe that Californians
want a Republican – especially not a rightwinger like Issa
or Simon -- to replace him. There are reports
that Camejo would be willing to step aside should journalist
Arianna Huffington enter the race.
Arianna Huffington is the former wife of Michael Huffington,
briefly discussed above. Born in Greece, she began her political
career as the socialite wife of a wealthy Republican and an
outspoken supporter of conservative and rightwing positions.
However, there was always something unorthodox about Arianna’s
conservatism. Like Mr. Bush and former Congressman and HUD
Secretary Jack Kemp, Arianna espoused a brand of conservatism
that emphasized its benefits to the poor. Unlike Mr. Bush
and like Mr. Kemp, Arianna really believed in it. To a great
degree, she still does. However, she has embraced many progressive
positions in the last several years. She adamantly believes
in campaign finance reform. She is a persistent critic of
the Bush administration, especially in its favoritism to the
Like Camejo, Arianna is ambivalent about the recall. Like
Camejo, she is contemptuous of both Davis and the Republicans
driving the move. Unlike Camejo, she tends on balance to oppose
the removing Davis. In an opinion
piece posted on her website on July 9, Arianna articulated
her feelings about the recall and about Davis. She states
that the recall is a rightwing ploy and expresses her distaste
for the leaders of the movement. Like many who oppose the
effort, she believes that there is something undemocratic
about an attempt to remove Davis for office less than a year
after his election. She is unimpressed with the field of possible
Republican replacement candidates, singling out the shady
Issa and the untested Swarzenegger for particular scorn.
However, Arianna does not see Davis as an innocent victim
of a coup attempt. While Davis’ defenders state that he just
won a fair election, Arianna points out that Davis, a master
political fundraiser, used part of his war chest in the spring
of 2002 to fund television ads attacking Mayor Riordan ahead
of the Republican primary. This, many observers believe, tilted
the balance in the primary to the pathetic Bill Simon; while
the unpopular Davis was able to defeat Simon in a race closer
than expected, almost all believe that Riordan would have
threatened Davis’ hold on office. “So, eight months ago, Davis
gamed the system,” says Arianna, “and now the system is about
to strike back.”
To both Arianna and Camejo, this touches on an issue dear
to them: campaign finance reform. Both Arianna Huffington,
the maverick conservative, and Peter Camejo, the doctrinaire
leftist, decry how big money distorts democracy. This, of
course, is no reason to recall Davis. It is a good reason,
along with Darrell Issa’s personal financing of the recall
effort, to move in the direction of public financing of political
campaigns. The opportunity to discuss this issue in this way
may be just what it takes to put Arianna in the race. As for
Camejo, he has spent a lifetime using the electoral process
as a sounding board for ideas rather than as an opportunity
for personal power. Even though the recall election may present
the best opportunity the Greens will have for a long time
to elect a governor, Camejo may decline in favor of allowing
Arianna the spotlight to voice ideas that are mutually dear
to both of them.
To raise the issue of campaign finance may not help Davis,
even if it can be used to portray Issa, and by extension those
who pushed the recall, in a bad light. Davis’ campaign finance
tactics make many reform-minded California citizens – of whom
many are Democrats – very uncomfortable with him. While Davis’
tactics are this side of the law, they are sleazy. Like much
campaign financing, there is no explicit quid pro quo, but
there is a very loud implicit one. In spite of budget cuts
in the present crisis, state prison guards received a hefty
pay raise. No one should speak against them; they do a
necessary job. But why prison guards not suffering with school
children? Perhaps it has something to do with the prison guards’
union contributing $3.4 million to Davis’ re-election campaign.
As Bob Dylan said, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”
Even those of us who do not believe the case has been made
to recall him recognize that Davis is unpopular and vulnerable
on many fronts. Regardless of how one may feel about the merits
of the recall movement, it should be apparent that Davis’
chances of survival are problematic.
For this reason, the decision by the leaders of the Democratic
Party to refrain
from running a replacement candidate seems puzzling. This
strategy was announced by Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the
Democratic National Committee, just ahead of the certification
of the gathered signatures.
Clearly, the Democrats are counting on the voters to reject
the recall because no better candidate than Davis is running
to replace him. Given that Davis’ approval ratings are in
the low twenties, it promises for an extremely negative campaign.
The Democrats message will be: No matter what you think
of Davis, look these other guys. What a monsters’ ball!
It is a very risky strategy. One would even say foolhardy.
Peter Camejo, who stands in line to be one of the principal
beneficiaries of such a move, calls the strategy a “suicide
It also seems unnecessarily risky. Even as recently as early
July, public opinion polls showed that Senator
Dianne Feinstein would win a replacement election were
she to enter. By running Feinstein, the Democrats may assure
that one of their own remains governor of California. At the
same time, it may also encourage people unhappy with Davis
to go ahead and vote to recall, knowing that an able Democrat
would be the one most likely to take his place.
However, without Fienstein in the race and with Davis’ approval
ratings as bad as they are, the indications are that the Democrats
will lose the governor’s office in California. The least desirable
outcome of this farce would be for the governor’s office to
be won by to Darrell Issa, who decided that the governor’s
office is for sale and for a couple of million dollars he
would buy it. On the other hand, the most desirable outcome
– that, in the absence of any better reason to recall a governor
than has been presented thus far, Davis is retained – is starting
to look remote.
One might wonder that if the Democrats wake up on October
8 and find Darrell Issa or Bill Simon sitting in the governor’s
office in Sacramento, if the Democrats won’t recall McAuliffe.
There will be a great deal of finger pointing, on that we
As for this citizen of California, a recall should be reserved
for politicians guilty of malfeasance. That case has not been
made against Davis. Even if there is someone on the ballot
as a replacement candidate who would make a better governor,
that is no reason to vote Yes on the recall question.
This citizen will vote No.
Meanwhile, it would be most undesirable to reward those who
pushed the recall and bankrolled it for partisan purposes
with complete success. Accordingly, this citizen will also
vote for the Democrat, Green or independent with the best
chance of succeeding should Davis be recalled.
That may be enough to make those who would hijack direct
democracy think twice. However, best of all would be allow
Davis, who is guilty of no malfeasance, to finish his term.
A recall should be more serious business than Mr. Issa and
his friends make it out to be.