The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 August 2003

As the recall approaches

Chris Lawrence at Signifying Nothing sees a couple of patterns shaping up in the California circus. For instance:

There are two groups of voters who are likely to vote no on the recall: those who want Davis to remain in office (probably around a quarter of the electorate, judging from his approval ratings) and those who believe that the second-stage winner will be a worse governor than Davis. Polls leading up to the election may determine how people vote on this question; if there is a sizeable contingent of hardcore Republicans who think Bustamante will win the second ballot, they may vote no on the recall, to retain the lame-duck Davis in office. Similarly, a Bustamante lead may encourage Democrats to vote yes on the recall, so a (potentially) strong incumbent can be on the ballot for the Democrats in 2006.

I'm still wrestling with the concept of "worse governor than Davis" — it leaves a strange, Huffington-shaped hole in the back of my mind — but this scenario makes a certain amount of sense. And if the Gray/Bustamante dynamic seems a lot like Clinton/Gore, well, Chris has thought that one through also:

In 2000, Gore ran to the left, thinking he really needed to stop Democratic voters from defecting to Nader (which he actually didn't need to do), and generally didn't run on the Clinton record. On the other hand, Clinton's approval rating was much higher than Davis', and the economy was doing significantly better too. Assuming it's in Bustamante's personal interest to win the election, it's probably in his best interest to run away from Davis' record. More importantly, in the absence of any credible challenger from the left, he can run to the right — which makes his announced tax hike package seem like a rather boneheaded move, suggesting more is at work in his campaign than a simple desire to win the recall election.

Jerry Brown once said something about "moving left and right at the same time," perhaps a useful tool in California politics, but one which Gray Davis has been unable to wield lately; I have no reason to think that Cruz Bustamante has any facility for it either. So Bustamante is basically playing to the Democratic base here, with almost the same moves Davis would have employed, which tells me that Bustamante isn't about to separate himself from Davis; with Davis arguing that all these horrible things aren't his fault, I expect Bustamante to argue that continuity — i.e. returning a Democrat to the office — is the most reasonable alternative to keeping the existing one.

There are those who think the whole idea of a recall is horrid, but as Chris says:

[T]he recall provision is sound and there is no good reason why it should not be adopted elsewhere — it's one of the few "progressivist" reforms that actually is good for democracy.

Think of it as flexible term limits.

Posted at 10:53 AM to Political Science Fiction


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