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September 12, 2003

10 Reasons Why MoveOn's "10 Reasons Why the Recall is Wrong" is Wrong

I get a fair amount of e-mail from, a group that is probably the hottest thing to hit the political left wing since the 60's. I have a lot of mixed feelings about MoveOn, as I do for most successful projects from the well-intentioned-but-misguided Left. I'm not here today to muse about that group generally, but they sent out a "talking points" e-mail about opposing the California recall, and I wanted to take a moment to clear up what they are trying to muddle.

So, here are MoveOn's "10 Reasons Why the Recall is Wrong", with my responses.

1. A single congressman brought us the recall with $1.7 million of his own money -- while simultaneously putting himself forward as the man to replace the governor.

The recall was triggered by over 1.3 million Californian voters who enthusiastically signed petitions asking for it. The real truth is that California firmly embraced this recall effort. It was not just supported by the state Republican Party, but also by the Libertarian Party. From all the reports I heard, many in the state Green Party were supportive of it too, with most of them witholding official endorsements for fear of helping a "right-wing power grab", as it's popularly being called now. I heard that Gray Davis' favorability rating is the lowest of any California Governor since they've been checking -- it has been at or below 25% for months.

And the single congressman, Darrell Issa, simply put forward the money to pay petitioners once it was clear it was popular and supported. It was almost certainly an opportunistic move (though it didn't pan out, since he dropped out early), but in effect it was just a guy putting up the money for something a lot of people wanted anyway. Over 1.6 million signatures collected; over 1.3 million verified voters. Darrell Issa's signature was just one of them.

2. The recall threatens to give California a governor elected by a tiny percentage of the electorate -- and gives wealthy individuals an unprecedented opportunity to attempt to buy the governorship.

16.5% of the electorate voted for Gray Davis in 2002. That bears repeating: 16.5% of the electorate voted for Gray Davis in 2002.Talk about tiny percentages.

Nobody paid the people to sign the recall petitions, and nobody is paying people to come out and vote. It looks likely that this will be a very popular election, as special elections go. People are excited and interested in participating in the recall election; people were gagging as they entered the voting booth back in 2002. Draw your own conclusions.

And the recall provision has been in the California Constitution -- not just a law here, a constitutional provision -- for almost 100 years. It hasn't made the ballot any of the 31 times it was attempted in the past -- but it did this time. (And there were rich people back then too.) Draw your own conclusions.

Speaking of opportunities to buy the governorship -- here's an article about doing that, Gray Davis-style.

3. It threatens to invalidate a fair election just months after it took place.

Right -- a fair election in which Gray Davis intentionally spent money to ensure the moderate Republican (Riordan) was defeated in the primaries, so he would face the more extreme conservative one (Simon) in the general election. A fair election where the Libertarian Party was denied the ability to have the candidate who was chosen at their state convention on the ballot. A fair election where eight people were on the ballot, but most only heard about two - and only two were in the big debate(s), as far as I recall. A fair election where 16.5% of eligible voters, and 23.2% of registered voters, elected Gray Davis.

Oh man -- that was such a great election! It was the freakin' pinnacle of democracy. Let's bathe in the nostalgia of these LA Times exit poll results from 2002:

Voters had overwhelmingly unfavorable impressions of both Davis and Simon, with roughly six in 10 expressing negative views about the two major party candidates. A like number, about 60%, disapproved of Davis' job performance over the past four years while just about half of voters said the state was heading down the wrong track.

Asked to compare the two on issues, at least a quarter of those interviewed picked neither candidate when asked who would do a better job on energy, homeland security, crime and the economy. Asked which candidate had more honesty and integrity, fully a third of voters said neither.

Maybe California voters are so enthusiastic about this election because it feels more real than the last one.

4. It sets a dangerous precedent -- if it succeeds why wouldn't opponents attempt to recall every future governor?

Because if the governor was popular, and the recall unpopular, it would fail, and be a political boondoggle that the proponents would be resented for. Has everyone forgotten that this has been tried 31 other times, and not even made it to the ballot once? This one looks more like the exception than the rule.

5. It's expensive: The recall election itself will cost over $60 million.

60 million dollars for a state with a 98.9 billion dollar budget is not particularly expensive. 60 million is .06 billion. 98.9 billion - .06 billion = 98.84 billion. Notice how that doesn't seem like a very big cut.

6. It prevents our elected leaders from working to solve the state budget crisis and other important issues by forcing them to campaign to defend the results of a fair election.

This one answers itself -- if "our elected leaders" (none of whom got my vote, by the way) hadn't led the state into crisis, the recall wouldn't be popular. A governor who the people thought was doing a good job wouldn't need to campaign against this recall.

7. The cost to the economy is too great: a successful recall would cause enormous economic instability and loss of confidence.

Did you ever feel before that your very survival was dependent on who was governor of your state? Me neither. I think it's fairly indisputable that if fiscal conservative Tom McClintock was elected in this recall, confidence in California's economy would go up, significantly. I suspect the same is the case with Arnold. On the other hand, check out how much confidence there is in California currently, in the Gray Era.

A successful recall would certainly cause a loss of confidence among Gray Davis supporters. Maybe that's what they mean.

8. This won't stop in California: 18 states have recall provisions. Unless the California recall is decisively rejected, sore losers in others states will continue to use this tactic.

Great! I agree with all of that, except change "sore losers" to "voters". Because it's voters that signed for it, and voters who will decide it. Recalls represent a great way for voters to keep their elected officials in check, and frankly it's remarkable to hear supposedly progressive organizations calling them a threat to democracy, and saying recalls are a way for people to buy elections. California voters, and voters in general, should resent the implications behind such assertions.

9. The recall threatens California’s environment. Governor Davis has made important improvements to environmental law. Polluters see the recall as a chance for roll-back.

Finally, at number 9, they try to give some reasons why Gray Davis actually deserves to stay in office. Neither top Republican candidate is talking about rolling back environmental laws -- Arnold sure isn't. I don't think they think Bustamante is going to roll back environmental laws. Without specifics, this sounds like a red herring.

There are plenty of other Davis-installed anti-business regulations to get rid of, without resorting to environmental ones.

10. Gray Davis has made important gains in education, health care, the environment and public safety. The recall is an attempt to reverse those advances.

The recall is an attempt to reverse the budget crisis and the mismanagement of the state's business. In 6 months of following it, this is the first I've heard about attempts to reverse any advances in California.

A successful recall will require over 50% of the voters voting to remove Gray Davis from office, indicating that voters believe that whatever supposed gains Gray has made are not sufficient in the grand scheme of things. Anyone who wants to get people to reject the recall should focus on explaining, clearly, why 51% of the people should choose to keep Gray Davis as governor. After all the hype, that's what it comes down to. Should he stay -- why or why not? Everything else is fluff, or left v. right bitterness.

Nobody's quite saying that the folks who made the recall happen are breaking the rules -- because they're not. This recall is a legitimate electoral function in California, and it's pretty aggravating to hear "progressive" organizations bemoan it as some sort of assault on democracy. Keep in mind that the recall provision was a direct byproduct of the first "progressive" political wave back in the early 1900's.

I'm becoming more and more convinced that the real problem in American politics is neither the Left nor the Right -- the real problem is the battle between those two over who gets to drive. It's their constant struggle for power that confounds their ability to do any lasting good with that power. In the direction that is currently heading, their future holds decade after decade of struggling to stop or reverse or challenge such and such thing that the right wing is trying to do. And there are certainly plenty on the other side who are digging in for the perpetual battle as well.

The good news is that we can take the power away from both sides, and give it back to its owners. That struggle can be taken out of politics, and put where it should be -- in the realm of voluntary association and cooperation. That's where things are going to have to head, sooner or later. Count me in as a vote for sooner.

Posted by Lance Brown at September 12, 2003 11:41 PM | TrackBack
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