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California recall election attracts motley bunch of...
Bigots, crackpots and con artists

By Jessie Muldoon | August 15, 2003 | Page 2

THE MAINSTREAM media worked itself into a frenzy over actor Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement that he would run for governor of California. But the star-struck gossip about Schwarzenegger drowned out any discussion about the political and economic crisis in California that underlies the election.

Schwarzenegger will be part of a field of close to 200 candidates running to replace Gov. Gray Davis if he is recalled in an October 7 vote.

"Ah-nuld" captured the media's undivided attention by making his announcement on Jay Leno's talk show--which set the tone for the circus atmosphere of the days that followed. But Schwarzenegger isn't the only wild card. The field of candidates includes Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt, billboard model Angelyne and actor Gary Coleman--who is running on a platform that includes walling off the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Meanwhile, the California Democrats' united front in defense of Davis broke down as last Saturday's deadline to get on the recall ballot approached.

Davis, who is deservedly unpopular for presiding over a devastating financial crisis and savage spending cutbacks, was counting on keeping on other Democrats off the recall ballot. Last week, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante broke ranks and filed to be a candidate.

For now, Davis still has the support of important parts of the Democratic Party--including organized labor. But other prominent Democrats are backing Bustamante--who opened his campaign with a criticism of Davis' plan to balance a huge budget deficit by tripling the state's vehicle tax, which will fall disproportionately on working people.

The divisions among the Democrats were overshadowed by Schwarzenegger's announcement--thanks to the media, which outrageously allowed the actor to get away with remaining silent on issues such as the budget deficit.

Schwarzenegger is a well-known pal of Republican honchos like George W. Bush and former California Gov. Pete Wilson. In fact, Wilson--who remains notorious for his anti-immigrant and anti-union stands as governor--is Schwarzenegger's campaign co-chair. If anyone wants to know what Schwarzenegger would do as governor, a look at Wilson's disgusting record is a good place to start.

After a few days of resisting, Schwarzenegger released his tax returns to the media. The actor is worth an incredible $57 million--which shows that his populist claims to be concerned about working people in California are nothing more than a pose.

Then there's the Nazi problem. Schwarzennegger is close friends with Kurt Waldheim, the former president of Austria who was exposed as a participant in Nazi crimes as an intelligence officer in the German Army. Schwarzennegger has never renounced his connections to this former Nazi.

The petition drive to qualify for a recall election was launched by right wingers in the Republican Party--led by Rep. Darrell Issa, the car alarm tycoon-turned-politician, who had planned to run for governor himself, but dropped out after Schwarzenegger's announcement.

But Davis has only himself to blame for the success of the recall effort. He squandered the state's budget surplus two years ago by bailing out energy companies during California's manufactured energy crisis. When the recession turned the surplus into a $38 billion deficit, Davis consistently focused on making working people--not least the very state workers and unions who were key to his two election victories--pay for the crisis. The list of devastating budget cuts leaves no program untouched--health care, public education, services for the elderly, the disabled, single mothers and the poor.

Despite this, however--and despite the seemingly progressive character of the recall rules, which require only 65 signatures and $3,500 for candidates to qualify--almost all of the big-name figures trying to replace Davis are millionaires. There's Republicans Bill Simon and Schwarzenegger, of course, as well as Flynt and Issa--and even right-winger-turned-progressive-pundit Arianna Huffington.

Many progressives will be sucked into supporting Bustamante--as the "lesser evil" to the Republican rogues' gallery led by Schwarzenegger. Bustamante--who has feuded semi-publicly with Davis for years--has posed himself as a left alternative to Davis, opposing the car-tax increase and calling for (very small) tax hikes on the rich. Nevertheless, Bustamante is part of a Democratic Party establishment that backed Davis throughout as he slashed social programs. He can't be trusted to do anything different.

Seemingly to the left of Bustamante is Arianna Huffington--whose campaign attacks the corporate giveaways that Davis presided over, as well as the Bush tax cuts that passed the financial crisis on to California and other states. But her dedication to running a campaign independent of the Democrats is questionable. For example, earlier, she said she wouldn't run if a prominent Democrat like Sen. Dianne Feinstein got in the race.

Peter Camejo, a prominent Green Party candidate, is also on the ballot. He ran in the last governor's race in 2002 and received 5 percent of the vote--in San Francisco, he came in second, beating out the Republican candidate Bill Simon.

Camejo is pro-union, supports immigrant rights and could be a viable left-wing alternative. But so far, he hasn't organized a noticeable campaign. And he has said that he supports Huffington's candidacy--and might drop out if it looked like she could win.

Despite the media blitz, hardly a word has been said about the impact of the budget cuts in education, health and social spending--the real source of the political crisis that produced the recall. Stopping these cuts won't depend on who ends up in the governor's mansion in October--but on building a movement from below.

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