BALLOT QUESTION #1:
Shall Gray Davis be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?
After we got over our initial surprise that the recall election was really going to happen, a few of us head-in-the-sand liberal elitists started to enjoy the ride. Yes, this process started as a right-wing idea to thwart a legitimate democratic election. And yes, people all over the world were laughing at our “wacky” state politics. But at least they were paying attention — to state politics. More important, we as Californians have been paying attention. Even our normally fluffy local newscasts have been devoting daily airtime to the Gray Davis recall. If a recall could engage the electorate — to make politics matter to the everyday people we liberals are supposed to care so much about — then maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. A few of us started to entertain fantasies of recalling George W. Bush.
But then we took a hard look at the many candidates who entered the race and found ourselves confronted with the political equivalent of 135 cable channels and nothing to watch. The Democratic Party, in denial that real people — even progressives — might support a recall, did us no favors by failing to put up a strong candidate to step in if Gray Davis lost the new election. And the press, by quickly pushing the few plausible progressive candidates to the gadfly zone, has ensured that our alternatives to Davis are now limited to an actor who says he can solve the state’s problems by “opening the books” on day one (when he hasn’t even bothered to read the already-open budget books) and a too-slick politician who makes business as usual in Sacramento look as slimy as it really is.
Certainly we are no great fans of Gray Davis — last November we began our lesser-of-two-evils endorsement of him this way: “We abhor so much about Gray Davis . . .” But we must admit that Davis has pushed the state forward in ways that should not be overlooked. He’s delivered on increased funding to education. And he’s signed bill after bill that improved the lives of Californians — particularly the working poor, minorities and the middle class — in terms of expanding health-care coverage, broadening gay rights, protecting worker overtime and enhancing environmental protections. It’s true that he sometimes had to be strong-armed into supporting these measures. And Davis has made a science of nitpicking and watering down legislation that we’ve supported. Worse, Davis has often sided with business interests, prison guards and tribal casinos to the detriment of the state at large. But there remains a distinct and thoroughly worthwhile difference between what Sacramento has produced during his tenure and what it churned out during the terms of predecessors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian.
What’s more, we looked at the accusations against the governor and found them unpersuasive. It’s simply not true that Gray Davis has inflicted a stunningly high tax burden on Californians, or that his administration is driving jobs out of the state. California ranks 18th among the states in its tax burden. And proportionally, the rate of job loss in Gray Davis’ California over the past couple of years is half that of George W. Bush’s United States. If you’re looking for a governor who presided over job flight from the state, his name is Pete Wilson — whose advisers are now the core staffers for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In the final analysis, we find that Davis has committed no ethical breach deserving of a recall. Liberals still giddy about ditching Davis should heed the law of unintended consequences. A successful recall could lead to a series of recalls and a state of perpetual candidacy for officeholders, who spend too little time governing and leading as it is. Moreover, a successful recall is not likely to leave behind a more progressive landscape. Rather, pundits and fearful pols would probably conclude that anti-tax politics rule over all else and that star power trumps qualifications and thoughtfulness.
We urge an unequivocal no on the recall.
BALLOT QUESTION #2: The candidate to succeed (replace) Gray Davis if he is recalled (removed):
Senator Dianne Feinstein came out early and strong against the recall, and refused to consider anyone at all for the second part of the ballot. Some will follow her lead and leave Ballot Question #2 blank (after voting “no” on the recall, of course) to register their disgust with the entire process. Many more progressives will cast a half-hearted vote for tainted Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as insurance against a win for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Still others will be tempted by Schwarzenegger for his supposedly liberal positions on social issues, even though his tax-cutting fervor would likely hurt essential state functions, including education, and his cynical campaign style assumes voters care more about style than substance.
But in Arianna Huffington we have the opportunity to endorse a candidate with a true progressive agenda. Forget about her Gingrichite past; she’s seen the other side and has become, not a Democrat, but an independent voice of clear progressive reasoning. If Governor Schwarzenegger would be a West Coast dream come true for the Bush re-election juggernaut, Governor Huffington would be its nemesis, an elegant and eloquent scourge, flaying the Bush administration for its excesses and evils. What about the Green Party’s Peter Camejo? We think Huffington is the stronger of the two in delivering her message — Camejo would make a great state senator or U.S. representative, but Huffington has the communication and negotiating skills to assume the executive office’s bully pulpit. She is a persuasive speaker who has mainstreamed progressive ideas without allowing them to be labeled as too liberal or left-wing. We like how she keeps the other candidates honest with her persistent questions during debates, and we find ourselves agreeing with nearly all of her policy positions (creating universal health care, closing corporate tax loopholes, building charter schools). She sees voter apathy and wants to do the hard work of bringing people back into the political process. That means she’s for real campaign- finance reform and, unlike major Democrat or Republican candidates, she would push for Instant Runoff Voting, allowing citizens to vote for third-party candidates without worrying about the so-called spoiler effect. Indeed, we consider our endorsement positions in this race the closest we’ve ever come to Instant Runoff Voting — we’re against the recall, but if it has to happen we’d choose a progressive like Huffington to replace Davis.
Here’s something else to consider if you’re still tempted to vote for Bustamante. If he wins, the chances of having a progressive Democrat — state Treasurer Phil Angelides or Attorney General Bill Lockyer, for instance — voted into office during the next election become slim.
More often than not, the Weekly settles for the good, or even the so-so, in preference to the bad that the Republicans so unflaggingly offer. But since Bustamante barely clears the so-so bar, in this election we’re looking elsewhere. We choose Arianna Huffington for governor.
Proposition 53 got on the ballot as a condition for Republican support of this year’s state budget. It belongs to a species of initiatives that dedicate substantial state funds to a real and pressing problem without raising a thin dime of new revenue. In this instance, the need is the state’s infrastructure — its roads, water systems, hospitals, sewage treatment plants and police stations. And, as supporters like to say, this funding comes without raising taxes. But that’s precisely the difficulty with such initiatives, which pick one need of many, and chain finite state money to it, without regard for the big picture. Three percent a year doesn’t sound like too great a guarantee to infrastructure until you consider that only about a third of the budget is discretionary to begin with. And within that one-third of “optional” expenditures comes all funding for higher education, the court system, the DMV, the Department of Corrections, pension benefits and environmental protection. Although this proposition includes provisions to decrease funding during bad budget years, these checks are insufficient. Besides, billions of dollars already pay for infrastructure through bonds, direct appropriations and federal funding. Yes, more money is needed, but this measure would result in exacerbated budget deficits, cuts to other important programs, and less budget latitude for handling emergencies or altering priorities. This initiative is the worst sort of public policy.
Proposition 54 is another opportunistic and misguided attempt by Ward Connerly to graft a superficially colorblind society onto one that isn’t. Connerly wants to halt the practice of collecting information that designates whether a person is black, white, Latino, Asian or something else. He correctly points out that ethnic categories are decidedly imprecise in an increasingly multiracial population. But his solution is worse than the problem. The uses of ethnic data, however imperfect, include conducting medical research and spotting patterns of discrimination and inequality. Connerly inserted exceptions to allow for medical research and for compliance with federal rules. But his exceptions as well as his rules hopelessly complicate a concept that already was twisted when it was simple. If this passes, confusion and litigation are certain to ensue. In large measure, Connerly is making another run at affirmative action, which began with his successful Proposition 209 in 1996. That initiative outlawed affirmative action in California, but Connerly sees a backsliding as courts and colleges have found ways other than quota systems to help the poor and underrepresented minorities. So Prop. 54 is his way of trying to enforce his own strict interpretation of Prop. 209 by putting ethnic data — which can used by outreach programs, for example — beyond reach in the first place. We didn’t like Prop. 209 and we don’t like Prop. 54 either.