By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
With 10 days to go, California’s recall race is finally back on track after more than a week of court-induced uncertainty. The imperatives for the candidates are coming into sharp relief.
Gray Davis must hope that Democrats forget how he has disappointed them and that independents consider him superior to the alternatives. With the pro-recall committees now moribund, Arnold Schwarzenegger must drive the recall home and demonstrate that he can be a credible governor while dominating the Republican vote and picking up independents and disaffected Democrats. Cruz Bustamante must overcome the odor of his casino-dominated fund-raising machinations — now twice rejected in the legal process — and show that he has been paying attention while occupying high offices. Tom McClintock must hope for the miraculous collapse of Schwarzenegger and his own escape from the opprobrium of getting major help from Indian casino tribes. And Arianna Huffington and Peter Camejo must figure out how to have enough influence to make their trailing candidacies worth it.
Of course, this election goes forward with an asterisk. The unanimously overturned federal appellate court panel succeeded for a week in halting a flood of absentee ballots and in short-circuiting voter-registration efforts that were running heavily in favor of independents and Republicans. Nevertheless, the recall continues to lead by a sizable margin, and the governorship remains close to the grasp of rookie candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here are the challenges facing the top contenders:
How hard can the governor get people to swallow? Environmental groups, known to complain bitterly about Davis, are talking about him as if he were his own former boss Jerry Brown, a morphing he has spent most of his career assiduously avoiding. Sure, the governor signed the landmark global-warming bill, which was a Weeklycrusade last year and one of his most frequently touted achievements. But after winning last year’s primary, the governor had a different tune. “Bush may be right,” Davis said of the president’s view that global warming needed more study. It might be time to act “in five or 10 years.” Davis warmed to the measure to cut tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases, but not tremendously. He later signaled indirectly that he favored the bill without endorsing it and became an enthusiast only with its signing.
Davis was more active in passing the requirement for 20 percent renewable energy by 2017 but, after taking months to endorse the bill, made few calls to legislators on its behalf. Not unhelpful, but not a profile in courage.
Other groups, such as Latino legislators and Indian casino tribes, are getting major turnarounds from the governor, with Davis embracing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants without the security provisions that he pushed for and which were in the bill he vetoed last year, and soliciting casino tribe candidates for the commission that regulates Indian casinos. Davis must hope to stir up enough fear, uncertainty and doubt about the recall, which he is doing with a well-funded advertising campaign, and overshadow his pandering moves.
If the recall is to succeed, Schwarzenegger will have to make it happen. And if the ex–Mr. Universe is to become Mr. California this time around, he will have to carry off the balancing act of being a Pete Wilson and a John McCain, and persuade voters that his far less experienced real self is ready to be governor.
The Republican Party, in another sign of its toothless status in this state, has not mounted much of a campaign for the recall. So much for the big bad Republicans.
Schwarzenegger’s real trick is in being both a Wilson, who can consolidate most Republicans, and a McCain, who can expand beyond to independents and some Democrats. Tricky for anyone to do, even an experienced politician, especially with a high-profile right-winger, McClintock, continuing to stay in the race even though Schwarzenegger has won the de facto Republican primary, with twice as much support among Republican voters.
After setting records for vagueness, Schwarzenegger has become wonkish of late, especially compared to the other top contenders, putting out strong and detailed programs on political reform and environmental and energy policy. On the environment, Schwarzenegger is actually to the left of Davis, with aggressive plans promoting renewable energy, curtailing air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions, and protecting coasts and forests, contradicting Bush policy in many cases. On political reform, he would open all government operations to public scrutiny, ban fund-raising through much of the legislative session, and require that all contributions be reported within 24 hours on the Internet. His budget plan, however, remains very vague. And that, of course, is the biggest Capitol issue of the moment.
But the biggest political issue remains Schwarzenegger himself. Is he being held back by a cautious and cumbersome, indeed Brobdingnagian, campaign? Is this guy, who has mused for years about being governor but was not on track to being fully prepared until 2006, credible enough to be governor next month? Or has all the energy he spent on Terminator 3, which is just now becoming one of the top 50 films of all time in worldwide box office, been too much of a distraction from being prepared enough for this recall race?
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