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Budget-cutting governor targeted by Republican right
What's at stake in California recall?

By Scott Johnson | July 11, 2003 | Page 2

CALIFORNIA GOV. Gray Davis will almost certainly face a virtually unprecedented statewide recall vote sometime in the next year. Organizers of a recall campaign announced that they had gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot. State officials haven't certified their petitions, but a recall election seems certain--if not in November, then early next year.

The drive to oust Davis reflects the depth of the crisis in California politics. The state is entering its new fiscal year with no budget, because of a deadlock between Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature--and Wall Street firms are considering lowering the state's credit rating to junk-bond status.

To avoid going bankrupt, the state recently sold $11 billion in bonds. The borrowing costs on this alone will be $210 million--enough to build 27 elementary schools. Davis has a 21 percent approval rating--the lowest for a governor in the state's history--because of his awful record of budget cuts and mishandling of the energy crisis several years ago.

The only reason that Davis won re-election in 2002 is that the Republicans ran an even more despised figure against him--hard-line right winger Bill Simon. The recall campaign is being organized by the Republican right to overturn that result.

Leading the drive is Darrell Issa, an anti-immigrant, anti-tax, pro-war Republican member of Congress. To this point, he was probably best known for demanding that the U.S.-based telecommunications giant Qualcomm be allowed to run Iraq's cellular telephone network after the U.S. "liberation." Numerous stories have emerged about Issa, linking him with car thefts and carrying illegal weapons. But these allegations pale in comparison to his real crimes.

In his zeal to replace Davis as governor, Issa has funded the recall campaign with more than $1 million of his personal wealth. Recall petitioners, who have to collect 900,000 signatures for the recall to qualify, are being paid $1 per signature from this slush fund.

But if this recall has become a real possibility, Davis has himself to blame. His budget proposals include raising the state's sales tax, cutting $800 million in health care for the poor, and demanding that state workers give back a 7 percent raise or face 10,000 layoffs. At the same time, Davis wants to spend $220 million to build a new death row at San Quentin prison. And he refuses to raise taxes on California corporations--among the wealthiest in the world--who are at a lower rate today than at any time since the 1950s.

If a recall election happens, voters will have the option to vote "yes" or "no" on the first part of the ballot. And on the same ballot, they will have to choose from a list of candidates for governor, in case the recall passes. So far, Democrats insist that they are behind Davis and won't run a candidate on the second part of the ballot.

Meanwhile, various Republicans--including both Issa and Bill Simon--are jockeying for position. The Green Party's Peter Camejo also has said he will run in the special election. Much more will unfold in the coming months. But already, this unprecedented recall is highlighting the crisis in California politics for all to see.

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