California Gubernatorial Recall: Chaos 2003

Thought the Bush vs. Gore debacle was fun? Think Jesse Ventura was Minnesota's idea of a good time? Just wait for October 7, 2003!

California's progressive constitution allows for recalling the governor if ten percent of registered voters sign a petition to do so. Darrel Issa, a Southern California businessman with sacks of money to throw around, led a campaign to kick Governor Gray Davis out of office (and, Issa hopes, install him.) (Of course, Issa is a Congressman from San Diego County - thanks, Ereneta.) The campaign rallied around the fiscal crisis the state's been in for a few years (Davis was first elected in 1998, before the current recession hit.) The charge has some merit - Davis seems to be a pretty poor manager and is essentially in the pocket of special interests, most notably the teachers' and prison guards' unions. Then again, 49 states are in debt right now, because the U.S. economy is in the crapper - not the fault of any one Governor.

Signature-gathering was easy and completely succesful. A recall election has been set by the Secretary of State for October 7, after the courts turned down the Davis camp's attempt to postpone it until spring.

A recall election is a very special thing. It's so special, even the state California State Constitution isn't quite clear on what it entails. From Article 2 (Voting, Initiative, Referendum, and Recall):

SEC. 15 (a) An election to determine whether to recall an officer and, if appropriate, to elect a successor shall be called by the Governor and held not less than 60 days nor more than 80 days from the date of certification of sufficient signatures...
(c) If the majority vote on the question is to recall, the officer is removed and, if there is a candidate, the candidate who receives a plurality is the successor. The officer may not be a candidate, nor shall there be any candidacy for an office filled pursuant to subdivision (d) of Section 16 of Article VI.

SEC. 17. If recall of the Governor or Secretary of State is initiated, the recall duties of that office shall be performed by the Lieutenant Governor or Controller, respectively.

SEC. 18. A state officer who is not recalled shall be reimbursed by the State for the officer's recall election expenses legally and personally incurred...

As it first became clear that the recall election would definitely happen, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante (who has a ceremonial, next-in-line position much like the V.P.) pointed out that part (a) could imply that no election needed to be held - that Bustamante would simply step in if Davis were recalled. Of course, this was instantly attacked as an undemocratic power grab, so Bustamante dropped the idea and declared that a successor will be elected if the majority chooses recall.

The succession angle isn't exhausted yet. A squad of sneak attack lawyers has filed suit against Bustamante, arguing that he made an unconstitutional decision under Section 15.a (they claim it is not "appropriate" to elect someone), and therefore should be put in office if Davis is recalled. Yes, they're suing Bustamante to get Bustamante in. (Obviously, Bustamante was elected because people like saying Bustamante Bustamante Bustamante.) Anyway, that case will be heard by the state Supreme Court. It would obviate a lot of people's plans if the lawsuit is successful.

Another argument erupted over who got to vote on the next Governor: just people voting to recall or all voters? A federal judge decided that everyone can vote, whether or not they try to recall Davis. This means the ballot will have two questions: one to recall, and one to elect the next Governor. A majority is needed to recall, and whoever gets the most votes then gets elected.

So who's running? Anybody who damn well pleases. If you've got $3,500, and 65 friends to back you, you're on the ballot! Practically speaking, this means mass insanity. Someone with 15 or 10 percent of the vote could easily take it for the next three years. (Of course, if the people would just implement approval voting, this wouldn't be a problem...)

Oh God, the candidates

Issa's been pretty candid about his campaign as an attempt to become Governor. As a conservative without wide support, he'd have serious trouble versus an average Democrat (on average, California is left-leaning, and the Democratic machine dominates state politics.) In this climate, who knows? At least he has a head start on the other candidates. He'd better watch his ass, though, as Davis has already mobilized against him. The basic message is that Issa is a felon-employing Nazi who's trying to steal the election. Nice. Of course, Issa has been working the "Davis is corrupt and incompetent" meme since the beginning.

Peter Miguel Camejo, a Bay Area money manager, announced his candidacy as a Green early on. He drew 5% of the 2002 vote. Can he rally disenchanted progressives to victory??? Dunno.
Interestingly, Camejo stands apart from Nader's 2000 idealism. He claims he doesn't want to be a "spoiler" (hell, everyone's a spoiler in this race) and is interested in cutting a deal so the Green Party will support a progressive Democrat, who might enjoy more support. Cool.

Arnold Schwarzenegger made a lot of noise about the recall, but it's still not clear if he'll run. He has a campaign staff already, but wonders if a candidacy would compromise his family's privacy. (Schwarzenegger has promised to announce his choice next Wednesday.) He has a bit of history in grass roots campaigns and enjoys tremendous recognition, so the media has been all over him. He's basically a moderate with an alleged history of drugs and women, so he's not likely to have support from the hard-line Republicans, but I'll bet that 10-15% of the voters don't care about a youthful indiscretion or two..

Richard Riordan was buried in the 2000 Republican primary by Davis' incredible amounts of money. Davis ran a massive campaign that assaulted Riordan on abortion, even though Riordan was marginally pro-choice at the time (besides that, the Governor really has nothing to do with abortion.) He's a popular social moderate, and many moderate Democrats are still pissed that Riordan was essentially eliminated as a choice because Davis saw him as the greatest threat. Riordan has said that he will only run if Schwarzenegger doesn't. I have no idea if this is true.

Bill Simon was barely defeated (47% to 42%) by Davis in 2002, despite the fact that Simon is more conservative than most Californians and was completely left behind in the fundraising phase. As he's picked up campaign papers already, Simon is very likely to run. Meh, he may be popular enough among conservatives to get enough votes.

While the Democratic party line is that no Democrats should run (the idea is that Democrats are forced to keep Davis), Senator Dianne Feinstein is under a lot of pressure to run anyway. She's certainly more popular than Davis, even though she's has publicly stated she won't run. Noders who like having freedom are advised to consider that in the Senate, she's made an excellent puppet for the "content" industry.

Arianna Huffington, a columnist who's a compassionate progressive (according to a site urging her to run), is considering a try, even though she's said she's not sure the recall is a good idea. Her former husband Michael, who served as a Republican state congressman and is now an independent, is considering a run too. Then you've got various Democrats such as Representative Maria Sanchez who want a Democratic alternative to Davis, you've got wacky third party candidates, you've got anyone else who wants in (Larry Flynt is running on a platform of free speech, casinos, and sex), you've got one hell of a circus.

Actually, Davis can't be counted out yet. Latest polls indicate 49±2% support for the recall, meaning pollsters really have no idea if the majority supports it. Davis may have a lot of problems, but he has the support of the California Democratic Party and gobs of interest groups, which means he will have an immense amount of money to spend on slandering everyone else, the usual Davis tactic. Clearly, he doesn't have to swing that many voters to keep the job, but if he runs the usual campaign, he'll turn a lot of voters off.

Davis' main arguments, approved by his legions of market drones, has been that the recall is attempt to "steal" the governorship (Gray Davis has a problem with thinking of himself as untouchably elite) and that the recall will cost $30-$35 million (an official estimate by the Secretary of State.) Apparently, this figure appalls voters, who would do well to know that the overall state budget is over a thousand times larger, and that the budget deadlocks California runs into every year cost much more than that. (Granted, they aren't necessarily Davis' fault and might just be worse if a Republican governor had to wrestle a budget through a hostile Democratic Congress.) Oh, and Article 2, Section 18 (above) is not terribly clear, but it may allow Davis, should he win, to recoup the entire $20 million (estimated) cost of his campaign from the state! Davis has said he won't, but who knows if he'll stick to his word? To many, the guy comes off as slimy and dishonest, but he might survive the term anyway. If not, the ensuing anarchy of a massively minority Governor ought to be amusing.


This election won't be the typical two-candidate festival of money and rhetoric. This election is a free-for-all.


The Bee's coverage:
California State Constitution: (Incidentally, the state constitution has been noded.)
Run Arianna Run!:

Ward Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative will be on the ballot too, essentially by chance as it was expected to be voted on much later. I'd call this a Bad Thing because the RPI is a sweeping change that won't get half the attention, debate, or thought it deserves. Update: Bustamante has devoted millions of dollars in controversial campaign contributions to beating this initiative, now known as Prop. 54. Even Connerly now admits that it's screwed.

Jongleur recommends that I not forget Georgy Russell (, who has nothing special to say, but is at least more attractive than most other candidates. (Update: Actually, she has some credentials - she's propably the only one capable of installing Linux. Read the Slashdot interview:

As of August 2, more than 70 candidates have filed the paperwork needed to go on the ballot and more than 100 say they will likely run, including porn star Mary Carey and billboard model Angelyne.

Since the election is a suprise, counties are in the middle of the transition from obsolete chad-producing equipment to more reliable voting machines. This means the new stuff will often not be ready, so we may see more fights over how votes are counted. To make things worse, the systems often can't accommodate so many candidates. For instance, in some counties the candidates might just be listed by number. So we can expect a whole lotta confusion come voting day.

One prominent candidate I didn't mention is Senator Tom McClintock of Simi Valley, who narrowly lost the election for controller in 2002 - more narrowly, he points out, than Simon lost to Davis. (Of course, Californians don't tend to give that much thought to a relatively low-profile office.) He's very likely to run.

Update, August 9:

Arnold announced his candidacy on The Tonight Show. Riordan has stuck to his word, and will sit it out. Issa has decided to drop out to strengthen the Republicans. Simon is sticking around, saying that his hard right views will beat Schwarzenegger's generally moderate positions.

Two Democrats have broken ranks to run in the recall: Bustamante and Insurance Comissioner John Garamendi. Bustamante enjoys strong support among Latinos and Democrats, and plans to run on a platform of "No on recall, Yes on Bustamante". Garamendo, who holds an obscure elected office, has a similar rationale - he wants to give Democrats someone to vote for. (He's tried for Governor twice before.) This is pretty silly, as he'll mainly just take votes from Bustamante, thereby helping the opposition.

Update, September 15:

So, I guess a bunch of stuff happened. Issa, former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and Bill Simon (most of the major Republicans) have dropped out, leaving Schwarzenegger and McClintock as the viable conservatives. The media has doted on Schwarzenegger since the beginning of this race, but has not enjoyed the massive support some predicted. He's polling very close to Bustamante (depending on the poll, but often they land within the margin of error), and has lost some novelty as he's elucidated his postions (which are mostly moderate by California standards - pro-choice, some gun control, for domestic partnerships but not gay marriage, etc.) He also took flak for a 1977 interview with Oui magazine describing his inclination for group sex, among other youthful indiscretions, and his clumsy psuedo-denials haven't helped things, although he and his wife, Maria Shriver have been pushing him as an upstanding, morally correct guy. (Online at

From the right, Tom McClintock has been harrassing Schwarzenegger, insisting that he is too liberal for the Republican power base in California (which is probably too small to elect McClintock, as it was too small to elect social conservatives in recent elections...) This strategy is generally screwing the more popular Schwarzenegger, and McClintock insists that he will not back down - of course, that's the same rhetoric Uberroth, Simon, and Issa used shortly before backing down. We'll see.

Garamendi dropped out in a few days, leaving Cruz Bustamante the viable Democratic candidate. Davis hates his "No on the recall, Yes on Bustamante" line, but his plan of helping the budget with less spending and (gah!) increased taxes combined with his broad political and financial support and appeal to Latinos is working out well - the success of the recall and the success of Arnold's ascension are both uncertain now.

Ariana Huffington and Peter Camejo are both well into the race, in a brilliant plan to split the progressive vote. Have early reports of a collaboration turned into mere dreams???? Well, probably. Ariana seems to have lost interest in endorsing Camejo, should he become more viable.

135 candidates successfully registered by the filing deadline, (Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt, scores of people you've never heard of...) but God knows how many are actively campaigning. California is becoming very amused with the perpetual joke EVERYBODY'S RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR LOL!!!

The most pressing news: most of the legal challenges to the recall failed, but one worked! Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ACLU's charge that the obsolete voting equipment in several counties disproportionately harms minorities and delayed the recall election, suggesting that it be held on the March 3rd primary, but setting no official date. Of course, the judgement is being apprealed like crazy. Pro-recall forces charge that this is the most liberal circuit court around and say the Supreme Court will overrule them - but the Ninth Circuit's unanimous decision is based on Bush v. Gore! Yeah, I bet they'll overturn that ruling.

More as developments develop.

On September 23, an 11-member panel randomly selected from the Ninth Circuit Court unanimously overturned the court's earlier decision to postpone the election. The ACLU won't appeal to the Supreme Court, so the election's on (again) for the 7th.

Bustamante and Schwarzenegger have both ignored their respective promises to run clean campaigns, and are now running attack ads. All the major candidates are hoping for a strong showing at the only debate that Arnold's participating in. (The, uh, "debate" has candidates giving scripted answers to questions issued ahead of time. And they call Arnold a political lightweight!)


The recall went thorugh, and Schwarzenegger pretty much crushed everyone. Results from

55% for recall, 45% opposed

49% for Schwarzenegger, 32% for Bustamante, 13% for McClintock, 3% for Camejo, 4% for assorted douche-bags
(Schwarzenegger beat Bustamante in every region other than the Bay Area)

36% for Prop. 54, 64% opposed

36% for Prop. 53, 64% opposed

Now comes the nice, smooth transition. And more lawsuits.