Education leaders in California are beginning to speak out against a recall election this fall that will decide whether Gov. Gray Davis keeps his job.
Gov. Davis, a Democrat who was re-elected to a second term last November, has faced rising criticism over his handling of the state economy and other issues. His combative personality has helped alienate not just political foes, but also allies, including the state’s teachers.
The Oct. 7 recall vote grew out of a Republican-led petition drive that began last winter. Mr. Davis will be the first governor in the state’s history to face such a vote.
Roy Romer, the superintendent of the 737,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District and a former governor of Colorado, compared the recall to a shipwreck: Rather than work to fix the problems, the crew decides to throw the captain overboard. A recall “destabilizes the economy, and is not the path we should be taking,” Mr. Romer, a Democrat, said at a press conference last week.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, a former Democratic state senator, also has spoken out against the recall and voiced his support for the governor. “He thinks it’s wrongheaded, and thinks Gray Davis has been a great leader in education,” said Rick Miller, Mr. O’Connell’s spokesman.
The California School Boards Association also has also taken a stand opposing a recall. The Association of California School Administrators, though, does not take positions on partisan elections.
Most of the state’s labor unions have eagerly rallied behind Gov. Davis—particularly the police and firefighters’ associations. Education groups, though, have stayed closer to the sidelines and have tended to withhold wholehearted endorsements of the governor.
The California Teachers Association, which has had a rocky relationship with Mr. Davis, announced its opposition to the recall in May. CTA spokeswoman Becky Zoglman said last week that the 330,000-member union’s position had not changed.
“We are going to be actively campaigning against the recall,” Ms. Zoglman said. “That’s how we’re supporting Gray Davis.”
The recall campaign started slowly and was largely ignored by Gov. Davis and most political observers, before snowballing in May. Last month, more than 1.6 million signatures on recall petitions were submitted to the California Secretary of State. Eighty-two percent of those were verified, well over the 897,158 needed to force a recall election.
The recall ballot will also list potential successors who have met the requirements to run for governor, should Gov. Davis be unseated on a yes-or-no vote. The filing deadline is Aug. 9.
One of the most closely watched potential contenders last week was actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who led a drive to pass a 2002 ballot initiative to finance after-school programs. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R- Calif., who helped bankroll the recall drive, has declared he will run. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan was expected to join if Mr. Schwarzenegger bowed out.
So far, in an effort to help keep Gov. Davis in the executive office, state Democratic leaders have agreed not to put forth a new candidate.
A poll last month by the Field Poll, an independent statewide group based in San Francisco, showed that 51 percent of 719 likely voters would choose to recall Gov. Davis. But many factors, including the field of replacement candidates, could affect the decision, the analysts wrote.
Many of Mr. Davis’ problems can be linked to the state’s economy, which has gone from robust surpluses in the late 1990s to a staggering $38 billion budget deficit for fiscal 2004. The governor’s opponents also charge that he mishandled the state’s energy crisis in 2001 and has accepted questionable campaign donations.
Michael W. Kirst, an education professor at Stanford University, agrees that Gov. Davis’ lack of strong leadership throughout the state’s crises has hurt his image. But Mr. Kirst and others cautioned against assuming Gov. Davis will lose his job, noting his ability to discredit his opponents.
Mr. Davis expressed confidence last week in his chances to hold his job, after the legislature passed a $100 billion state budget last week that professes to erase all but $8 billion of the projected deficit. (“States Open Fiscal Year on Shaky Ground,” this issue.)
“I’m not comfortable saying the impact it has on any election coming up,” Gov. Davis told reporters after the July 29 vote, according to the Sacramento Bee. “But clearly you can’t say we have a $38 billion problem anymore. We have a much smaller problem.”