TOPICS > Politics

California Recall

August 7, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: For some insight into the stunning developments of the last 24 hours and into what lies ahead, we’re joined by two former governors of California: Republican Pete Wilson, and Democrat Jerry Brown, who’s now mayor of Oakland. Welcome to you both, governors.

Governor Brown, what does Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entry do to this race and to Gray Davis’ chances of holding on to his job?

MAYOR JERRY BROWN: Well, at this moment, the overarching media presence is so great, that I think we, you know, should put it in some perspective. But whatever the perspective is, it is a very powerful force going against the Democratic governor. At this point, the recall is now a mechanism to allow a lot of the anger, a lot of the frustration with problems in Sacramento, problems in the economy, general frustration, to be very forcefully expressed in a short campaign.

It looks to me like the governor’s in big trouble, and if the Democrats want to save the day, they still, at this late hour, can all come together and ask the one candidate that I think overwhelmingly can compete with the Republicans, and that’s Senator Diane Feinstein. She doesn’t want to do it, but if labor and the other constituencies will form this phalanx of defense, break ranks and join in a new effort, a coalition to bring out this senior statesperson, then I think we’re going to have a much more interesting, constructive and I think, from a Democratic point of view, more optimistic possibility in this unprecedented recall.

MARGARET WARNER: Governor Wilson, do you agree that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entry into the race puts Gray Davis in big trouble? And if so, why? In other words, what is it about Arnold Schwarzenegger, as opposed to maybe some of the other people who are in the field that changes the chemistry here?

FORMER GOV. PETE WILSON: Well, it changes quite a lot. I think it would also be changed by the entry of Senator Feinstein, but I think she’s made it clear, she’s been quite firm that she isn’t going to do it. And a lot of people who admire her say why should she? She is a senior respected senator. Thirteen years ago, she had an interest, but that was thirteen years ago.

Now they’re asking her to come back and take charge of an incredible mess, one that she had no part in creating, one that in fact has gotten worse by the really remarkable performance of the legislature. They have been guilty of, I think, real intellectual dishonesty.

MARGARET WARNER: But could I bring you back to the politics, though of today’s moment and Arnold Schwarzenegger. What makes him…

FORMER GOV. PETE WILSON: Well, the fact that… I was simply picking up on what Governor Brown had stated, and I think he’s right. I think she’s the only one who really would have much of a chance because the others are in fact conventional and they have been part of the problem for the most part. He made an earlier observation that, when his father, when Pat Brown ran against Ronald Reagan, Reagan’s status as an outsider was not a serious detriment to him; if anything, it was an asset. I think the same thing is true in this case.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is someone who is representative of a lot of people who are angry about the fact that the state finds itself in this remarkable hole, $38 billion, the bonds being described as junk bonds. He has said that very clearly. He has expressed the discontent of people in both parties and independents, as well.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, let me get…

FORMER GOV. PETE WILSON: So I think that he…

MARGARET WARNER: Excuse me. Let me get Governor Brown back in here. Governor Brown, we’ve heard the Ronald Reagan comparison. Other people have compared him more to Jesse Ventura. Give us your sense.

MAYOR JERRY BROWN: Well, in either case, they both were elected their first time out. So that can’t give any comfort to the Democrats. Secondly, would I say your big question: Why does Schwarzenegger alter the chemistry? Well, because we’re in a media age. The transferability of politics, media, stars, all the rest of it is getting very interchangeable.

When you see a politician, you don’t see him in person; you see him on the screen. This guy Schwarzenegger is an expert at being on a screen. So that and the celebrity and all the rest of it, plus when you look at an actor, he’s still a human being, he has values, he has character, he has belief. And he will be here as another human being but one slightly bigger than life.

And that’s why the Democrats are at a real crossroads, because you have this media phenomenon with a fairly substantial human being behind all that glitter, and then you’ve got the big mess, you’ve got the frustration, you’ve got the anger. And unless the Democrats can make a major, you know, strategic tactical adjustment in the next 48 hours, they’re in big, big trouble.

MARGARET WARNER: And you’re saying they need to coalesce not around Cruz Bustamante, but try to lean on Diane Feinstein to reverse her decision of yesterday?

MAYOR JERRY BROWN: I’m not saying that Cruz, or even Garamedi who can be a very attractive candidate are out of this. I would even say Davis is a hell of a fighter. But if you’re just looking at the whole thing taking a common-sense approach, the Democrats, if they really want to be sure, are going to have to bring in an outsider from Washington, Senator Diane Feinstein. She’s saying no.

Today as we speak, she’s not going to do it. I talked to her yesterday. But I think if organized labor, if the other constituencies assess it, do some soul-searching tonight, then tomorrow there is a possibility that yet another surprise could readjust this very fast-moving, unprecedented recall process.

MARGARET WARNER: Governor Wilson, let me go back one more time on Arnold Schwarzenegger. Today when he was asked about his lack of experience, he pretty much pooh-poohed it and he said, “Gray Davis has tons of experience and look where it got us.” Do you think he can essentially run on his celebrity and his sort of broad vision or his personality, personal qualities, or do you think he’s also going to have to have to cross a seriousness threshold with voters in some way?

FORMER GOV. PETE WILSON: Well, I think he will have to and I think he will. I think one of the reasons that he connects is not just personal magnetism, it’s because the things that he is saying reflect the views of a lot of people who are understandably very unhappy with Governor Davis. And that is why the recall will succeed. What Arnold Schwarzenegger does is give to a lot of people who might have been hesitant about recall the assurance that there will be someone there whom they can be confident will have strong hands, who does reflect their own views and values when clearly Governor Davis doesn’t.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, let’s go to Governor Davis’ predicament now, Governor Brown. And of course we should say that one of the things he’s done is file some legal challenges, he’s seeking to delay the vote until March because many of the polling places can’t be open by October. The court’s supposed to rule any time now, at least on whether they’ll take the cases. But let’s say it goes forward in 60 days. You know Davis well, he was your chief of staff when you were governor. What does Davis have to do to turn this around?

MAYOR JERRY BROWN: Well, you know, I was just thinking as you were talking to former Governor Pete Wilson, this reminds me not just of my father running against Reagan and what that whole build-up was but also, in my own experience, running against Proposition 13 and the same constituency, organized labor, Democrats, all the good government people, all mobilized.

But we were up against a tsunami, a veritable tidal wave that just gathered momentum, and no matter what we threw at it, Howard Javis and Proposition 13 just swept over every opposition however eloquent, however logical. And I’m not saying we’re there, but there’s a possible analogy that I wouldn’t discount for a moment.

MARGARET WARNER: And Governor Wilson, you’ve observed Gray Davis for a long time as a campaigner, as a politician. What do you expect to see from him?

FORMER GOV. PETE WILSON: I think he’s going to try the same tactics that he has tried effectively in the past. I don’t think they will be effective this time, in fact a highly placed member of his own party, the attorney general, Mr. Lockyer said, I hope we will not see any of the some kind of, to use his phrase, puke tactics. He said he was tired of the trashing of the opposition that has been the trademark of Governor Davis in all of his races, including I might say the one that most of us remember, is that God awful ad that he did against Diane Feinstein when he had her image morphed into that of Leona Helmsley — or actually the reverse. It was atrocious. It was not just tasteless, it was offensive and I think that what Bill Lockyer was saying is felt like a lot of people in his own party, a lot of Democrats who just don’t want that kind of trashy campaign.

But I think that Governor Brown has put his finger on it. This is very much like Proposition 13. People were just mad as hell, they weren’t going to take it anymore, and so they were going to pass Proposition 13, whatever the arguments against it, and frankly, considering what the people of California have been through in the recent past and what they now anticipate from continued default, is more of the same. They are not just mad, but I think genuinely fearful and they think the time has come to throw out the people that have put them in this position.

MARGARET WARNER: Governor Brown, last night on Jay Leno, Schwarzenegger said, “I expect Governor Davis to paint me as inexperienced, as a womanizer.” Do you expect that and do you think that would be a smart strategy for Davis to take on Schwarzenegger personally and go on the attack in ads and in person?

MAYOR JERRY BROWN: No. In fact, even that happened a little bit in the Reagan campaign. No, that wouldn’t be it. And I do want to say, because I’ve painted somewhat of a dark picture here for the Democrats. Gray Davis is smart, he’s experienced, he’s tough-minded. You can’t count him out. And the first blush of excitement will tend to diminish over time. These are not easy issues. Schwarzenegger is going to be challenged intellectually, emotionally, in his whole presentation.

So yes, Davis is an underdog and there is some scenario by which he can succeed in all this. But it’s going to have to be a high-minded, it’s… I can’t fully imagine how it would unfold, but it can’t be just taken taking on one person because under the recall, Davis is really running against himself, not against another candidate. It’s only after the recall passes, if it does, that then the other people in the second question vie for who will actually get the plurality to replace him. So it’s a very different kind of campaign. It’s going to be the campaign of his life.

I think he ought to really think about whether or not he ought to call in Diane Feinstein for a real insurance candidacy that could protect our party and provide a real debate here with the Republicans and the whole recall process because there is one point to remember: There’s something anti-democratic about a process that allows a plurality, 20 percent, 18, 30 percent, to elect the next governor and then after that happens, you find a greater challenge in mobilizing the people behind you once you try to govern.

MARGARET WARNER: Does that trouble you, Governor Wilson, that in fact someone with 15 or 18 percent of the vote could win this thing?

FORMER GOV. PETE WILSON: It’s very much like what happens in almost every primary. Someone wins the primary with a plurality where you’ve got a field of four or five candidates and then they go on, run against their general election opponents, maybe wind up with less than a clear majority, but with a plurality. This is not new. It is democracy.

MARGARET WARNER: Very brief final question to you both, Governor Wilson and Governor Brown: Do you think, Governor Wilson, if you were talking to Arnold Schwarzenegger, would you encourage him to challenge Jerry Brown to debate and governor.. not Jerry Brown to debate. To challenge Gray Davis to debate…

FORMER GOV. PETE WILSON: No. I had that pleasure years ago.

MAYOR JERRY BROWN: Yes, we had that pleasure.

MARGARET WARNER: And vice versa, do you think, Governor Brown, that Gray Davis should be willing to debate?

MAYOR JERRY BROWN: I think you have to debate. This is going to be… see, there’s not lots of things on the ballot. There is this recall and a couple of ballot measures, but this is a time for debate, there’s no way to avoid it. And the mettle, the character, the feeling, the empathy of these candidates will be presented to the people. That’s what it’s all about.

MARGARET WARNER: Jerry Brown, Pete Wilson, thank you both.