Crowded Field: California’s Recall Election
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JEFFREY KAYE: In the election to recall California Governor Gray Davis, nearly 200 candidates hoping to replace him signed up by the Saturday deadline. The final list of qualified candidates will be announced Wednesday. For his part, Davis this weekend at a Los Angeles clinic demonstrated his strategy for the two-month-long campaign to retain his office and defeat the recall. His plan, according to advisers, is to be and to appear gubernatorial.
GOV. GRAY DAVIS: Many people are trying to become the governor. I am the governor, and I have an obligation to eight million people who went to the polls last November to work every day, to try and make their lives better.
JEFFREY KAYE: On Saturday, Davis signed a landmark bill to phase out toxic fire-retardant chemicals.
GOV. GRAY DAVIS: Okay, it’s now law. (Applause)
JEFFREY KAYE: Today, a California election official drew letters to determine the random order of names that will appear on the October 7 ballot. The first part of the ballot will be up or down on the recall. The second will present the long list of replacement candidates. The most prominent one: Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor, who filed his papers Saturday morning.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I promise you that I will be the people’s governor.
JEFFREY KAYE: The best known Democrat is Cruz Bustamante, the lieutenant governor.
LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE: I think that my campaign says it all: Vote no on the recall, but just in case, vote yes for Bustamante.
JEFFREY KAYE: By campaigning as an alternative to a governor whose recall he opposes, Bustamante is trying to walk a fine line. He says he is providing political insurance for the Democrats.
LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE: I wish we were in a different place, but the idea of having a situation in which we could lose the position is…it’s just not acceptable, and after serious consideration, I really believe that having a second option for people’s second vote will give us a second opportunity to win.
JEFFREY KAYE: Bustamante had faced potential opposition from the state’s insurance commissioner Democrat John Garamendi, but Garamendi pulled out hours before Saturday’s filing deadline. He was urged to do so by other prominent Democrats, who felt the party would be better off with one major Democratic candidate.
Schwarzenegger is starting to receive endorsements from many notable Republicans, such as former California Governor Pete Wilson and Congressman David Dreier. But this candidate’s appearances resemble movie premieres. They’ve turned what would have been merely a rancorous political contest into both that and a media extravaganza. Comedians who filed as candidates are exploiting the political stage for comic opportunities.
BILL PRADY: As a sitcom writer, I intend to solve all of the state’s problems in 22 minutes and 42 seconds, two commercial breaks, and a hug at the end.
JEFFREY KAYE: Different political observers see the unfolding spectacle through different lenses. There’s the three-ring circus perspective held by some headline writers and the serious business school of thought favored by others, including Sacramento Bee columnist Daniel Weintraub.
DANIEL WEINTRAUB: People in California and around the country – but especially in California – are paying attention to state politics and by extension, state government, in a way that they never have before. I think they sort of feel some sort of ownership over this election, even the people who didn’t sign the petitions. But those who signed them, 1.6 million people feel like, “Hey, we called this election. The government didn’t tell us we had to vote on October 7th. We said we wanted to vote, and by God we’re going to, and we’re going to get involved, and we’re going to debate these issues and this is our state.” And I think that’s a healthy thing.
STEVE LOPEZ: I think there’s in some ways even less of a chance that issues get covered.
JEFFREY KAYE: Another columnist, Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times, has a more cynical view.
STEVE LOPEZ: When people say this is great for politics, civic awareness, I look at the crowd outside the registrar’s office, waiting for an autograph from Arnold, and I look at the fact that Arnold declares his candidacy on a late night comedy show by regurgitating stale lines from vapid movies, and I have a hard time understanding how that’s good for public participation and engendering more knowledge of, you know, political doings in California.
JEFFREY KAYE: So far, few candidates have spelled out programs, even though the stakes for California residents are high because of the monumental problems facing the state. California is making billions of dollars in cuts. It’s borrowing billions and raising college fees and car taxes. Employment is at a two-year low. Whoever is governor will inherit a deficit of at least $8 billion. But the candidates are offering few specifics about how to fix that catalogue of problems.
Schwarzenegger has promised to attract more business to California. He hasn’t said how. After he filed his papers on Saturday, the actor wouldn’t be drawn into discussing issues.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I don’t want to say any more. I just want to say to you that I am running for governor, and I promise you that I will be the people’s governor.
JEFFREY KAYE: Schwarzenegger’s strategist Sean Walsh said the superstar would not be rushed into explaining positions.
SEAN WALSH: We will announce our views, our vision and our policies on our own timetable, on our own schedule. It makes no sense today, in front of a giant throng of crowds, to lay out your entire policy proposals.
JEFFREY KAYE: One controversial position is already drawing fire from Democrats. Schwarzenegger voted in favor of Proposition 187. That was the hot button 1994 initiative that would have denied social services to illegal immigrants.
Schwarzenegger is also facing serious competition from fellow Republicans. Among them: businessman Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in the November election. An aide says Simon will try to contrast his conservative positions on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion with Schwarzenegger’s more moderate views. As for the state’s fiscal problems…
BILL SIMON: I have specific plans and solutions which we will go through in great detail on the campaign trail that will help make life better for all Californians every single day.
JEFFREY KAYE: Simon promised to lower taxes and cut programs, but hasn’t said which ones. Republican businessman Peter Ueberroth, the former baseball commissioner, says he is working on a fiscal plan. Independent Arianna Huffington, favored by many progressives, advocates higher taxes for the wealthy as part of her platform.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: We start by closing tax loopholes and ending the tax dodging. This is not a right/left issue. This is a right/wrong issue, because ordinary, working Californians are now shouldering a larger tax burden.
JEFFREY KAYE: Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, who in November’s gubernatorial election received just over 5 percent of the vote, plans a joint campaign with Huffington on tax and other issues, but he acknowledges the challenge for them and other lesser-known candidates is to make their voices heard.
PETER CAMEJO: We need to educate the media to turn and talk about platforms. I mean, they’ve just given a massive publicity to Arnold without any reference to whatever he stands on, and candidates like myself and others that really want to raise issues have a hard time, and that’s part of the battle that we confront.
ART PULASKI: I arrive at 10:00.
JEFFREY KAYE: Labor is planning a major role in this election in support of Davis. Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation, sees the recall as an effort by conservatives to roll back liberal gains in California.
ART PULASKI: We’re going to make over 2.5 million phone calls to union members and their families; we’re going to make over 700,000 stops and talks at the precinct doors in our neighborhoods and at the lunchrooms of our worksites and the plant gate doors to communicate the issues and the concerns that we have about this recall, to let people know why this recall is bad.
JEFFREY KAYE: In past elections, Davis has waged slashingly negative campaigns against rivals, but in a weekend interview with his wife Sharon at his side, he said his strategy now will be different.
GOV. GRAY DAVIS: We will be running a positive campaign, pointing out the things that I’ve tried to do to make life better here in California.
JEFFREY KAYE: Davis said he would try to persuade voters that he is not responsible for the state’s woes.
GOV. GRAY DAVIS: The national economy has hammered jobs, 9/11 has hurt the hospitality industry, and the stock market for the three previous years declined precipitously. So we are dealing with the economic aftereffects of that, not just in California, but around the country, and I think we can get people to see that I’m not responsible for every human ill on the planet Earth.
JEFFREY KAYE: While Davis fights for his political survival, civil rights groups have gone to federal court to file legal challenges to the recall. The suits contend that the use of Florida-style punch card ballots is unreliable and that plans to have fewer polling places for financial reasons may make it too difficult for people to vote.