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Debating California's recall election

August 1, 2003 | Page 4

Don't ignore the right wing
We can't give Davis a cover
Don't give Davis a mandate
A smokescreen for the right wing
This vote isn't like the fraud in Florida
Voting "no" means supporting Davis' agenda

CALIFORNIA GOV. Gray Davis will face a nearly unprecedented recall election October 7. State officials announced last week that organizers of the campaign to oust the Democratic governor had submitted enough signatures to get the recall certified. The ballot is expected to have two parts. On the first, voters will choose "yes" or "no" on whether Davis should be recalled. On the second, they will choose a successor from a field of candidates if Davis is recalled.

Several Republican creeps are jockeying for position. Leading the pack is U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, the millionaire right-wing crackpot who bankrolled the recall drive. Reactionary actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is another possible candidate, as is former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

So far, California Democrats have vowed to remain loyal to Davis and stay off the recall ballot. Peter Camejo, the Green Party's candidate for governor in the last election, has said that he will run. Liberal pundit Arianna Huffington is also said to be considering a campaign. The recall is a stark indicator of the depth of California's political crisis--and is bound to have national implications. What should socialists say about the recall? Here, SW prints letters from ISO members debating the question.

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Don't ignore the right wing

TWO YEARS ago, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis handed over tens of billions in cash to the energy companies when they blackmailed the state by blacking out the lights. Now, rather than raising taxes on the rich to cover the $38 billion state budget deficit, he's raising taxes on the poor and slashing everything from day care to education to aid to the blind.

Unfortunately, union leaders in California have refused to organize any real fight. They argue that Davis and the Democrats are "doing their best" in a bad situation. This passivity opened the door for millionaire Republican crackpot Darrel Issa to tap into the real mass anger at Davis by bankrolling the recall effort.

With his own hide is at stake, Davis wants to call out everyone he's been pissing on to defeat the recall. It's galling that the union heads are putting more effort into defeating the recall than fighting budget cuts.

But no matter how much we hate Davis, socialists cannot be indifferent to the source of the attack. We should reject the Republican power grab for what it is and vote "no" on the recall.

At the same time, we should point out how Davis and the Democrats are to blame for creating this mess in the first place. And just like when we rejected the Republican impeachment of Clinton and when we protested the Bush coup in Florida, we should argue loudly and proudly to build a real left-wing alternative to the lesser-evil Democrats.

In electoral terms, we can do this by supporting Green Party candidate Peter Camejo in the second part of the recall election. More importantly, we can do this by arguing for the need to take strike and protest action in every workplace, campus, hospital and neighborhood against budget cuts starting now, no matter who ends up governor in the coming months.

Todd Chretien, Oakland, Calif.

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We can't give Davis a cover

THE EFFORT to recall California's Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, is a cynical power grab, funded by a rouge's gallery of the Republican right wing. Seizing upon the massive unpopularity of Davis, Republicans have poured millions of dollars into collecting signatures to get the issue placed on the ballot. But while it is important to begin discussions of the recall by exposing the right-wing agenda of the financial backers of the recall, we cannot stop there.

It is important to realize that the only way that Republicans can get any traction at all on this issue is that the vast majority of Californians absolutely loathe Davis for all the right reasons--giveaways to giant corporations (including energy companies like Enron) in exchange for campaign contributions, balancing the state fiscal crisis on the backs of poor and working people by raising the sales tax and slashing social spending; increasing the budget for prisons and a new death row, etc.

You have right-wing Republicans financing the attack and couching it in the rhetoric of popular disgust with "financial mismanagement" and "lack of accountability"--in an underhanded power play to regain the governor's office. They would never succeed in California by campaigning on their true agenda, which is to push through bigger cuts for social services.

You have slightly less right-wing Democrats, yelling "unfair!" cloaking themselves in "friend of the working people and all the downtrodden" rhetoric--while at the same time ramming through catastrophic spending cuts and taxes on the poor, in a cynical attempt to keep this hated Democrat in office.

Given all this, I think that our only real choice is to abstain from the election or deliberately spoil our ballots in protest. We should be clear that in this case, a "no" vote on the recall is a vote for Gray Davis.

When you get right down to it, every election in which a Republican is trying to unseat an incumbent Democrat is in some way an "attack from the right." Couching a "no" vote as a way to fight a right-wing attack forgets this basic dynamic, and most importantly, gives the craven Democrats (the majority of the state legislature, as well as the governor) the left cover they need to ram through the attacks they already have in the works.

As socialists, we have to be frank about what it will take to change things for the better in California--a fight from below, in our unions, schools and communities against both of the parties of Corporate America. This is not an "easy" thing to accomplish. It's an argument that we have to "patiently explain," and a movement that we have to build every day.

When you clear away the arcane electoral law fine print, the Hollywood celebrities and the soap opera insider shenanigans that appear in the daily papers, it's the same argument we'll be making in the run-up to November 2004.

Sue Sandlin, San Francisco

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Don't give Davis a mandate

GRAY DAVIS faces a recall because of his historic-low approval ratings and the deep pockets of a few Republicans. Chris Lehane, a former Clinton administration official advising the AFL-CIO on the recall, sees it this way: "If you are the Democrats in this, you want to make this about the other side's efforts to undermine the democratic process and impose upon the state an agenda that is inconsistent with the view of the people of California.''

But the Republican maneuver is not a coup in the way the disenfranchisement of Black voters in Florida was in 2000, for instance. The recall is no more or less "democratic" than other ballot initiatives or elections in California, and Socialist Worker should encourage its readers in California to abstain from the vote.

Davis says, "This is not simply about me. It is about all Californians who believe in a progressive agenda." But those Californians face tough questions about how to turn the tide on sweeping attacks. Support for Gray Davis in his political crisis is the wrong answer to those questions.

Teachers urging their unions to fight to the cuts will suddenly find that contract campaigns, not to mention protest or strikes, are not the priority. Students trying to preserve whatever they can of the public university system in this state will suddenly find fewer endorsers for their campaigns.

Democrats can't run on Davis' record, but they will turn a success against the recall into a mandate for him and his budget ax. The Davis campaign will offer as clear a lesson as we could want in how demobilizing are ties to the Democratic Party.

Many people who agree will vote "no" on the recall anyway, but Socialist Worker should provide a clear voice about the way forward in concrete struggles and urge abstention from the recall vote.

Bruce Cooley, Los Angeles

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A smokescreen for the right wing

THE DAVIS recall campaign is like watching two accomplices in a murder trying to save themselves by blaming the other. Unfortunately, this slime-fest has implications for the left. While I would love to see the Democrats sink in their own quicksand, it will be a step backwards if this occurs through an unchallenged, right-wing putsch.

At this point in time, the recall campaign is being posed in a duplicitous manner. It is being built around justifiable disaffection with Davis, but it is avoiding the real issues, such as unemployment and the budget cuts.

The real motives are hidden behind a murky "kick Davis out" campaign. The press has avoided any discussion of the Republicans' "solution" to California's crisis, which is to accelerate the attacks on the working class. The recall is a smokescreen to push politics to the right, bypassing any real debate.

This explains why Republicans are eager to get the recall on the fall ballot--to sneak it by quickly and take advantage of the confusion. The fight against it should be seen as an attempt to defeat the right and expose the limits of the Democrats.

The Democrats have shown their ineffectiveness around the issue, because they have no solutions. If there was a real left alternative it would be possible to build an abstention campaign that could try to polarize the recall around the real issues.

At this point, the Green campaign has yet to emerge. In the absence of larger forces, socialists should expose the class basis of the recall and the two capitalist parties to strengthen the forces to the left of the Democratic Party. As the recall becomes certain, the real issues will emerge. The call for a defeat of the right in the recall and support for the Greens as an alternative would work together to unify the left.

Defeating the recall could shift the mood to the left and raise expectations that the Democrats will be unwilling to meet. In this environment, the Green candidate could begin to fill the vacuum in the run-up to the general election, in the way that Nader did in 2000.

As the recall approaches, things could change quickly. In the meantime, we should feel confident to vote "no" on the recall, and "yes" on the Greens.

Justin Akers, San Diego

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This vote isn't like the fraud in Florida

SOME SOCIALISTS who want to vote "no" on the recall refer to George W. Bush's theft of the 2000 election and the attempt to impeach Clinton. While the lessons from these experiences explain why we should not support the recall, they do not justify a vote against it.

The Florida election scandal was not about whether a Republican or Democrat would be better--or less worse--but about the right to vote. African Americans were disenfranchised, and the Electoral College and the Supreme Court allowed Bush to become president, even though Gore received more votes. This was an attack on democracy, so socialists defended Gore--and democracy--against the right.

The same is true of Clinton's impeachment, which was about the Christian Right's social conservative agenda. We defended Clinton as a victim of the government's intrusion into our personal lives--having an affair is none of the state's business.

In the recall, there is no clear democratic or liberal ideal to defend, or reactionary demand to oppose, even if only critically, as there was with Florida and the impeachment. Therefore, the recall effort is no more reactionary than Davis himself. This is especially true considering the Davis camp's undemocratic maneuvering--for example, suing the recall campaign for using convicted felons to collect petition signatures, a lesson learned from Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris.

Ultimately, we have to ask whether it would be worse for Davis to be recalled or remain in office. In this situation, neither is worse--or better--unless you see the Democrats as the party of the left and accept them as the lesser evil.

Socialists accept neither of these and fight instead for the independent interests of the working class. We should not unite with the Republicans to recall Davis, but we should not fool ourselves into defending him with a "no" vote either.

Scott Johnson, Oakland, Calif.

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Voting "no" means supporting Davis' agenda

GOV. GRAY Davis has helped lead California into a financial crisis not experienced since the 1930s. He didn't do this by fulfilling campaign promises to improve education or health care. Davis, in fact, gutted both, while throwing money at the prison industry and doling out billions to the energy companies (the ones that were busily committing open robbery of Californians with their engineered "energy crisis").

Davis is hugely unpopular because of his horrible record. Based on his record, he should be recalled. If this recall were being organized on this basis and from the grassroots, socialists would be right to push for a resounding "yes" vote on recalling this criminal.

But there is no grassroots movement at the base of this recall campaign. Right-wing Republicans have seized on an opportunity to get rid of Davis and are organizing and financing the recall vote in the hopes of claiming the governorship.

The Republicans are using people's anger at Davis' mismanagement of the California budget to drum up support for his recall. What they're not talking about is how their own plan would be just as bad or worse for Californians.

The recall is legitimate. The people pushing for it are not. Do we oppose the recall then? Absolutely not. A "no" vote on the recall puts us against the right wing of the Republican Party, only to side us with the right wing of the Democratic Party. It's lesser evilism through the back door.

Dress it up any way you want--there is no way to vote "no" and not have it be support for the Davis agenda. Socialists should make the same argument that we make during most elections under the two-party duopoly: "Isn't this a pathetic choice we are given as voters? Does this seem like democracy to you?"

Socialists should abstain from the recall, but use it to wage a campaign against the sorry state of our current "democracy." We should give people a different vision of what real democracy would be like in a socialist world. We'll have to fight to get there, but that fight, in this instance, is not advanced by a vote for or against the recall.

Andrew Libson, San Francisco

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