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California Recall?

With a win in the 2002 elections, a state leader would seem to have his or her job sewn up for the length of the term, barring death, incapacitation, or a criminal conviction. That's not so, however, for Gov. Gray Davis of California.

The second-term Democrat will likely face a recall vote this fall if a drive to oust him from office garners enough signatures to force a special election.

California allows citizens to collect signatures to place initiatives on the ballot or to recall elected officials. Several Republican groups and a state watchdog group, People's Advocate, began the drive early this year and have collected about 400,000 signatures, out of 897,156 needed for a recall vote, according to a recent Associated Press count. The total tally, which must be filed by Sept. 2, represents 12 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election.

The complaints against Gov. Davis include allegedly mismanaging the state's budget and the energy crisis last year. The effort has a significant impact on the education budget, as many observers believe Republicans legislators are stalling the process in part to embarrass Gov. Davis. ("Education Aid Falls Hostage to California Budget Impasse," this issue.)

After ignoring the efforts, Gov. Davis and a new group, Taxpayers Against the Recall, have begun speaking out. The California Teachers Association also is backing Mr. Davis.

The recall law was meant to "remove leaders guilty of malfeasance and criminal acts, and to recall for any other reason would set a dangerous precedent that threatens to destabilize our government," wrote CTA President Wayne Johnson in a statement.

In his mandated response to the recall in February, Gov. Davis called the recall a trick by right-wing politicians, since they could not beat him "fair and square." He added that the state's fiscal woes are part of the national economic downturn, and urged both parties to work together.

But for a governor whose approval ratings are in the mid- 20 percent range, many analysts say he should be concerned.

A recall also could set the stage for a very quick turnover in leadership. Voters would be asked to vote yes or no on whether to keep Gov. Davis. They would be asked on the same ballot to choose another governor should he be recalled. If the recall succeeded, the person who received the most votes from an official list on the ballot would be installed in the office the day after the election was officially certified, without a primary or a runoff.

—Joetta L. Sack

Vol. 22, Issue 42, Page 15

Published in Print: July 9, 2003, as State Journal

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