Hasta la Vista, Davis?
By Domenico Maceri
Gray Davis did not get the blame for the east coast blackout this past summer. Yet, the recall campaign has blamed him for all the problems California has been experiencing, including the energy crisis and the 38 billion dollar deficit. Although the governor is responsible for much of what goes on in the state, it's totally unfair to recall Davis, because California's problems are shared by the entire nation. Davis is the only governor of the forty-seven states facing budget crunches who has to fight a recall.
Critics blame Davis for the energy crisis. Yet, the problem was created by former Governor Pete Wilson and the legislators who adopted the current system. Energy companies manipulated the electricity shortage and if Davis can be faulted, it is for not having acted more decisively to deal with the problem. In any case, major blackouts were avoided and the Enron scandal revealed that he was right in putting the blame on the deregulated system he inherited. Davis made a mistake when he tripled the car fees. He did not realize the anger that having to pay three times more would generate. But even here he is not totally at fault. The triple car fees actually mean that we returned to the 1998 rates. Of course, no one remembers lowering the fees. We only remember the raises.
Why raise the car fees? It was a matter of a huge budget short fall, estimated at 38 billion. Unable to pass a budget, which required higher taxes, Davis was singled out as the culprit. Eventually this year's budget was approved 67 days late. Again, the inability to pass a budget in a speedy manner worsened Davis' standing with Californians, when in fact much of the blame goes to the requirement of two-thirds majority necessary to pass budgets and the intransigence of the Republican legislators.
The GOP hung together and held the budget hostage with their "no tax" stand. Of course, Republicans did approve taxes during Pete Wilson's term. In addition, Governor Ronald Reagan approved a 1 billion tax hike in 1967 when the total budget was only about five billion. Unfortunately for Davis, the current GOP has become so doctrinaire in its hatred of all taxes that even traditional Republicans would not recognize themselves in the current extremisms of their party.
Ultimately, when the budget was approved, "taxes" were raised in subtle ways. Higher fees in the community colleges and state universities mean that people have to pay more. Isn't that a tax? Not according to Republicans. But it certainly looks like one to the people writing the checks. Davis' problems with the recall are due, to a certain extent, to a system which makes it easy to get rid of elected officials, provided enough signatures can be collected. In California, only 12% of those who voted in the last election need to sign the recall petition, the lowest threshold of any state. And even at that low standard, getting enough signatures for the recall to qualify would not have been possible without Darrel Issa, the San Diego Congressman, who footed the bill.
Davis would have a much easier time fighting a recall if he had made some friends in his political life. Although he has never lost an election, he has a reputation for running negative campaigns regardless of who his opponent is. In the last gubernatorial election he used negative ads to affect the Republican primary. By running ads against Richard Riordan, Davis managed to help Bill Simon get the GOP nomination. Simon ran an inept campaign and Davis was reelected.
California, like the rest of the nation, is facing economic hard times. Yet, none of the candidates running to replace Davis has a magic wand to fix the challenges lying ahead. And if someone else gets elected governor, will he or she be replaced by another recall six months later? When voters are not satisfied with elected officials, they can always vote not to reelect them. Davis, having been elected by the majority of Californians who voted in the election, deserves to finish his term. When voters look at the candidates running to replace him, they will eventually come to that conclusion.
Regardless of the October 7 outcome, there is little doubt that the initiative process needs to be modified. The current system can be easily manipulated by rich people to put just about anything on the ballot. In most cases, the issues raised by the initiative process consist of concerns that elected officials need to deal with. That's why we elect them, and they deserve to serve their terms.