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California recall effort is a mistake
Published August 1, 2003

On October 7 of this year, the citizens of California will go to the polls to decide whether to keep or remove Governor Gray Davis, and to choose a successor should the vote come down against the governor. Very few people like Governor Davis, whose approval ratings hover around 20 percent, but the recall effort is neither in the American tradition of democracy nor a wise decision, and I can only hope that it fails, no matter what Davis’s shortfalls as a governor.

Governor Davis was fairly elected in 2000. Since then, he has overseen the worst budget crisis in California’s history. The state is thirty billion dollars short of the money it needs and is looking at either unpopular tax increases or severe and damaging cuts to education and help for the elderly and the poor. There is no doubt that many things went wrong, but I am not arguing for or against Davis in this space.

Darrell Issa, the millionaire Republican who bankrolled the effort to secure the signatures required for the recall is obviously not a disinterested party. He lost in the real election. Now for the relatively cheap price of $2 million, he has bought himself another. Are there millions of Californians who are unsatisfied with Davis? Of course there are. Does this mean they can just kick him out? I don’t think so.

Davis has broken no laws, nor has he been implicated in any wrongdoings or dishonesty, not even by his opponents. Perhaps he has botched the budget, and perhaps the problems originate with the price-fixing efforts of the utility companies in the state; either way, the governor deserves the opportunity to do his best to fix the problems. If he fails, then he will surely lose the next election.

What will the recall effort fix, if it succeeds? Well, maybe Californians will be blessed with "The Terminator," Arnold Schwarzenegger, if he runs. More likely, they’ll get Mr. Issa, or some other nearly unknown candidate--anyone with 65 signatures and $3500 in the bank can get on the ticket. To top it off, whoever gets the most votes--even if the most was only 10 or 15 percent--would be the new governor. Is that better than sticking with the man who garnered a much larger majority in the real election?

This whole effort, besides being tinged with an unsavory partisan flavor, seems to follow in a continuing trend of Americans not taking responsibility for their actions. We don’t take responsibility for our smoking, our drinking, our driving, our eating habits, or for buying a gun. Instead, we file lawsuits. We’ve already imposed term limits on the grounds that we don’t have the guts to vote someone out of office. Now we have the recall, the political do-over. Californians screwed up the first time, so they’ll have another go at it. In four or five months, they’ll see how it’s working and then maybe they’ll have another recall.

Our political system provides for removal of corrupt or obviously imcompetent politicians. If the politician in question does not fall under these categories, but is instead merely unpopular or inexperienced, the system provides for his or her replacement through regular elections. That is exactly why we have elections. If we wanted to change politicians on the basis of daily polling numbers, then we wouldn’t need elections; we’d just have formal recall votes every six to twelve months.

Why would that be bad? Why can’t we have popular votes of no confidence for everyone? Because government moves slowly. Many people, particularly when talking about presidents, argue that what happens during each president’s term is the legacy of the previous term. It takes time to get things done in our system, and short of removing the entire bureaucracy (not as good an idea as it sounds) it’s going to stay that way.

Governors and presidents are allowed four year terms so they can actually try to accomplish something. I think they should be allowed to do so. Anything else will bring only chaos to our political system.