I am a Californian. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. If I had a dollar for every time I heard somebody say "so what's going on over there in your state?" I'd be rich enough to actually benefit from the Bush tax cuts. I'd be so rich, I wouldn't even have to open the envelope containing the fat check from the Bush tax cuts myself. I could have Pierre, my French butler do it.
Unfortunately, unlike Arnold Schwarenegger, I'm not that rich, which brings us to the California Recall election. I've noticed that people from other states seem to have a lot of misconceptions about what's happening. They also ask the wrong questions; usually I get one question about Gary Coleman followed by a period of prolonged laughter. There is, however, more to the recall than that. So I offer a fictional question and answer session that hopefully will clear up just exactly "what's going on over there in that state."
QUESTION: Who is being recalled?
ANSWER: Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat.
Q: Was he elected fairly? Or did he prevent thousands of legal votes from being counted and then take office after being appointed by five un-elected judges with strong political ties to his family?
A: He was elected fairly, twice. In 1998, Lt. Governor Davis defeated two multi-millionaires in the Democratic primary, and then trounced then-Attorney General Dan Lungren, who is more conservative than most people not named Ashcroft. In 2002, Gov. Davis won again, this time dismantling Republican Bill Simon, who's only qualification for office seemed to be his extraordinarily large bank account.
Q: So Davis was elected twice? But I thought nobody likes him?
A: Nobody likes him. One of his greatest supporters, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, admitted that Davis' only close friend is his wife. But his opponents in both elections were so conservative that they were unelectable.
Q: So why didn't Republicans put up a moderate candidate?
A: Funny you should ask. They tried. In 2002, they put up L.A. Mayor Dick Riordan, and he had the support of the White House. Then, Gray Davis' political attack dogs spent ten million dollars attacking Riordan in the GOP primary. Which would be like Bush running attack ads today against one of the Democratic primary challengers. The result was that Davis almost handpicked his opponent, Simon, and then ran a campaign that consisted of reminding voters that Simon was a right-wing nut.
Q: That Davis is one ruthless guy.
A: No shit.
Q: So why is Davis being recalled? Did he sleep with an intern and then lie about it? Did he reference known forged documents in his speeches and use them as impetus for sending thousands of people to their deaths? Did he break the constitution and sell arms to Iran and then use the money to funnel support to a group of murderous rebels congress had forbidden us to support?
A: Sleep with an intern? Davis? But he did make out with actress Cybil Shepard on the beach in Hawaii when they were young (he did, no joke). He's being recalled because there are a group of right-wing Republicans who want to use the public's distaste of Davis and the state's budget crisis to put one of their own in office.
Q: A right-wing conspiracy? Sure. Who's behind it, Ken Starr?
A: Conspiracy is a strong word. More accurately, they are using an obscure law to try to beat Davis. The recall was funded almost entirely by Congressman Darrell Issa of San Diego. Issa wanted to run for Governor on the recall ballot, but he had two problems. One, nobody likes him. Two, just after the recall qualified for the ballot, Davis operatives (I'm guessing) leaked a story to the press that Issa had stolen his own car when he was a young man and then tried to collect the insurance.
Q: How did the recall qualify for the ballot?
A: A recall petition was circulated and it garnered 1.2 million signatures.
Q: Interesting. Is 1.2 million half the state or something?
A: California has over 35 million residents. Using that percentage, for a hypothetical recall petition to qualify for the ballot in Vermont, it would need roughly 20,000 signatures, which would be like one town deciding that the whole state should have another election.
Q: So now that the recall is going ahead, how does it work?
A: Voters have two questions to answer. First, do they want to keep Davis. If they vote against recalling him, the rest of the ballot is meaningless. Regardless of how they vote on the first question, they will vote for a replacement candidate should the recall succeed. So the second question is a typical ballot with a host of candidates to choose from.
Q: How many candidates? Four? Five?
A: Closer to 150.
Q: Who are they all?
A: Well, there's a midget, a porn star, a smut peddler, and those are just the Libertarians. No, just kidding. I think the midget is a Democrat.
Q: So who are the "serious" candidates?
A: On the left, there's Peter Camejo of the Green Party. Arianna Huffington is running as an independent. In 1994, her husband ran for Senate as a Republican and lost. Turns out he was gay, so the marriage is over, and Arianna has transformed herself from a right-wing pundit to a left wing, well, pundit/candidate for governor. But these days, everybody's a candidate for governor. On the right, there's Tom McClintock, state senator and all-around ideologue. He's exactly the kind of candidate Davis usually chews up and spits out. For the Democrats, it's Cruz Bustamante, the Lt. Governor. He's running a campaign called: "No on Recall, Yes on Bustamante."
Q: Ah, so he's just offering a sensible backup for Democrats should Davis lose. Makes sense. So he and Davis are friends?
A: Clearly, you haven't been listening. Davis has no friends. In fact, they hate each other. Davis is afraid that Bustamante's candidacy will lend legitimacy to the recall election and will encourage Latino voters to vote for the recall in the hopes that Bustamante would become the first Latino governor of California.
Q: Aren't you forgetting somebody? Isn't there another major candidate?
A: Who, Arnold? Arnold is a complete joke. He knows nothing about anything. To paraphrase an actor working for Arianna Huffington's campaign: "Arnold is the least qualified candidate for office in California since Arianna's ex-husband." He was asked on television about California's Paid Family Leave law and stammered for ten minutes about how "it's all about the children." He refused to participate in any debates in which he couldn't see the questions ahead of time. When he did debate, he bragged about owning a Hummer.
Q: So Arnold can't win, right?
A: Of course he can, and if Tom McClintock drops out of the race, he will almost certainly win. So far, McClintock has stood his ground, saying that it's a sad day in American politics when a qualified candidate drops out to help a movie star with no experience. Even with McClintock in the race, however, Arnold has stayed close to Bustamante in the polls. He's helped by the fact that Bustamante is basically Gray Davis only less known. That is to say, nobody who is going to vote for him is passionate about him. Many liberals (and in California, we're not some wacky fringe group; we dominate Los Angeles and the Bay Area, the two largest metropolitan areas) will vote for Bustamante because they're terrified of the Republican alternatives. Many liberals are disgusted with the Davis regime and will vote for Camejo or Huffington. All of which is good for the man with no plan, the man who made a movie called "Total Recall." In that movie, he shoots his wife in the head and declares: "consider that a divorce."
Just the man we want running the world's fifth largest economy.