TOPICS > Politics

California Recall

August 29, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPENCER MICHELS: The first weeks of the recall campaign have been marked by as much jockeying within the parties as between them. The state’s leading Democrats say they are united on the effort to prevent the recall of Governor Gray Davis.

GROUP: (Chanting) No recall! No recall! No recall!

SPENCER MICHELS: But with polls continuing to show Davis unpopular and in serious trouble, the campaign of lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante is gaining Democratic support. He wants people to vote no on the recall, but also vote for him as a replacement should Davis lose.

LT. GOV. CRUZ BUSTAMANTE: I’ve been prepared for five years now, since the voters have elected me twice, to step in, in the event that the governor could not carry on. And I believe that’s the right thing to do.

SPENCER MICHELS: Davis had at first tried to convince democrats not to run. But members of California’s Democratic establishment wanted a backup candidate in case he lost. Davis by trying to keep Democrats out was holding the party hostage, according to university of California political scientist Bruce Cain.

BRUCE CAIN: The reality is, on the floor of the Democratic Party, among the activists, there was tremendous pressure to have an alternative other than Gray Davis, and so if Cruz Bustamante hadn’t done it, somebody else would have had to do it, because Democrats in this state were not happy with the game of hostage that essentially Gray Davis was playing, saying “your choices are to vote no on the recall or get a whole bunch of very conservative, unappetizing Republicans.” And that game of hostage has built up an enormous amount of hostility among Democratic activists.

SPENCER MICHELS: This week at a union gathering, Davis indicated he was reluctantly accepting Bustamante’s candidacy as a backup.

GOV. GRAY DAVIS: He’s a good, decent person. He’s the most qualified person on question two, but this election is not going to get to question two.

SPENCER MICHELS: Davis has long had union support. Just a couple of weeks ago, the national AFL-CIO promised to punish any Democrat who ran on the recall ballot. California unions are pledging $5 million to defeat the recall, but this week they grudgingly voted to support Bustamante on the second part of the ballot.

ART PULASKI: The lieutenant governor brings a great deal of voters to the table, to the polls on Election Day, and we see the great value of this “no/yes” tandem, if you will, to be sure that we get a maximum turnout of voters. We see this as a value to the “no recall” effort.

SPENCER MICHELS: San Francisco’s mayor and veteran Democratic politician Willie Brown said says the Democrats must unite.

MAYOR WILLIE BROWN: If the Republicans throw Gray Davis out of office and replace him with a republican governor, going into the 2004, California then is in play. Bush won’t win it, but it will force us to pull our horns in and redirect our resources internally in California to save the assembly seats, to save the state senate seats, and the 33 members of Congress. If a Republican doesn’t win, California will be written off early by the Republicans.

SPENCER MICHELS: On the Republican side, movie actor Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to attract the most attention as he tries to appeal to moderates and conservative within his party and to Democrats. Some Republicans think that by winning he can unite a splintered party, which has been shut out of all statewide offices in recent years. Bob Gardner, a longtime Republican media consultant in San Francisco, subscribes to that notion.

BOB GARDNER: They’d like to have a winner, and a lot of them see Arnold as a winner. And it’s fine to go down in flames a couple of times, you know, for your principles, but ultimately you want to win elections. And so with Schwarzenegger I think a lot of conservatives are going to swallow hard, because they’re not with him on the social issues, but then again they’re going to end up voting for him.

SPENCER MICHELS: This week in call- ins to conservative radio talk shows, Schwarzenegger’s views on social issues became clearer: He endorsed medical marijuana and tough gun-control laws, while opposing gay marriage and partial birth abortion.

QUESTIONER: Do you consider yourself pro- life or pro-choice?


QUESTIONER: Do you support partial birth abortion?

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I do not support partial birth abortion.

SPENCER MICHELS: But not to alienate conservatives, he stressed his Republican ideals on another radio show.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I am not an independent, I am a Republican, a proud Republican since the first day I came to this country. I was so excited about getting away from socialism.

SPENCER MICHELS: Schwarzenegger’s first television commercial tried to appeal across the board.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I stand for fiscally responsible government, rebuilding California’s economic engine, putting the needs of children first, and reforming our political system.

SPENCER MICHELS: Schwarzenegger has remained vague about how he would solve the state’s huge budget problems, and so far has not committed to taking part in statewide debates. He has garnered endorsements, and some contributions, from a wide range of groups and individuals, including a conservative orange county GOP Club. Late last week, he introduced some high-profile advisors, including investor Warren Buffett, who promptly said Californians were paying too little in property taxes. Schwarzenegger quickly repudiated that position, but Buffett’s comment drew fire from some on the Republican right who consider Schwarzenegger not sufficiently conservative. Candidate Tom McClintock, a Republican state senator regarded as the candidate who most appeals to California’s vocal conservatives, jumped on Schwarzenegger.

TOM McCLINTOCK: I am very concerned about the advisors he has assembled around himself. They include the team that imposed the biggest tax increase in the state’s history back in 1991, that broke the back of our economy, turned a recession into a near depression. He has Warren Buffett as his chief fiscal advisor, who’s the leading advocate for higher taxes in the country, and every time he’s been asked, he has pointedly refused to take a no tax pledge. That has me deeply concerned.

SPENCER MICHELS: A year ago, McClintock came within a whisker of winning the state controller’s job. Now with increased poll numbers, he has raised more money than expected. This week, he unveiled his first commercial, which emphasized his dissatisfaction with life in California today, and a yearning for simpler times.

ANNOUNCER: California used to be the golden state. Taxes were low, jobs were plentiful. Tom McClintock was there.

SPENCER MICHELS: McClintock takes a conservative position on social issues. He also wants to take money away from public transportation, and use it build more freeways. He says he’s in the race to stay, and that nobody has pressured him to quit. Political analyst Cain says McClintock’s conservatism poses a big problem for Schwarzenegger.

BRUCE CAIN: The strategic problem is in order to keep the Republican conservatives voting for him, he has to say conservative things. But the more conservative things he says, the fewer democrats are going to support him. So he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

SPENCER MICHELS: Several analysts expect the third republican, former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, to drop out of the race soon, but he says he won’t. He has pledged to stay in office only three years, and has based his campaign on his experience as a business leader who can manage the state’s economy.

PETER UEBERROTH: What am I not? I’m not a politician, I’m not good on television and I can’t answer questions with sound bites. I’m not a doomsayer. We can get out of this mess that we are in. California is in a serious crisis. We can make California great again.

SPENCER MICHELS: Democrat Davis, for his part, continues to campaign hoping part two of the ballot will not matter.

GOV. GRAY DAVIS: I trust California voters, and I think at the end of this, what’s turned into a Hollywood movie, there’s going to be a surprise ending, and people are going to decide the governor who is currently there, who was elected last November, is the best option available to them on that ballot.

SPENCER MICHELS: But even Davis’ supporters, admit they are confused by the unusual recall process.

MAYOR WILLIE BROWN: It’s unprecedented, and frankly, I don’t think any of us have really totally and completely with any accuracy sorted out what one is supposed to do.

SPENCER MICHELS: Because the recall is uncharted territory, analysts and politicians are wary of opinion poll results. Still, the most recent poll in the Los Angeles Times showed 50 percent of likely voters said they would vote to recall Davis. Among the replacement candidates: Bustamante is leading with 35 percent; Schwarzenegger, who was ahead in a previous poll, followed with 22 percent; McClintock rose from single digits to 12 percent; and Ueberroth had 7 percent. Many elections officials and pollsters, aware of unusual interest in and coverage of this unique election, are predicting voters will turn out in record numbers.