When the California recall started I saw it as an end-run around the Democratic process and a way for Republicans to do over an election they lost. I’ve changed my mind. However the recall started, it ended as a clear message from the people of California.
Some statistics helped put this in perspective for me. First, an LA Times exit poll reports that 25% of self-described liberals and 30% of Democrats voted in favor of the recall. (Annoying but free registration required for that link — may I suggest username cypherpunks22, password cypherpunks.) A fifth of Democrats, more than 40% of independents and 69% of conservatives voted for Schwarzenegger.
As for this being a do-over of an election that was already won, the people of California (myself included) were not very happy about the choices we got in that election. Democrats were stuck with an unpopular incumbent, and Republicans were egged on by Davis himself to nominate a candidate too far from center to be electable. Our dissatisfaction in that election was demonstrated by the lowest voter turnout on record and a full 3% of voters leaving the governor slot blank. To quote Jim Hightower, if the Gods had meant us to vote they would have given us candidates.
That said, I think Davis was a scapegoat for a much broader problem with how California is being run. As Governor he gets the spotlight, but blame goes to all. To Davis for not leading through force of personality and bully pulpit in times of crisis. To our partisan legislature for gridlock, sweetheart deals and gerrymandering of districts to offer safe havens for both Democrat and Republican incumbents. To previous administrations and legislatures for screwing up our energy deregulation process, and the Federal government for failing in their energy oversight. And to us, the citizens of California, for letting them get away with it and for misguided or poorly written initiatives like Prop. 13 and term limits that keep our system from running as it should.
Now with record voter participation, we have thrown the bum out and replaced him with an unknown. Incumbents throughout the state are no doubt aware that the anger directed against Davis will focus on others unless things change. I hope our new Governor will be able to leverage this mandate for change to turn things around before that happens, for all our sakes.
- Many Democrats Vote Against Davis and for a Republican (Matea Gold, LA Times, 8 October 2003)
- Record-low turnout for California voters (Mark Gladstone and Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News, 7 November 2002)