Washington, July 24: What happens in America’s “Golden State” when power cuts, setbacks to its high-tech, H1-B-fuelled economy, a huge budget deficit and other ills reminiscent of the Third World result in the recall of an elected governor'
In the case of California governor Gray Davis, he declares to fight his opponents “like a Bengal tiger”.
And some fight it will be once the recall process, set in motion last night by California’s chief election officer reaches the ballot box in late September or early October. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, the star of box office hits such as Total Recall and the Terminator and a Kennedy relative by marriage, is likely to be the most popular alternative in this unusual election to replace the Democratic governor.
Only once before has an elected governor been recalled in the US. That was in North Dakota in 1921. California enacted a constitutional amendment in 1911 which made it possible to hold special elections to recall their governor during his four-year term.
Since then, there have been 31 failed attempts to interrupt the terms of governors. Three of these attempts were against Ronald Reagan, who moved, instead, from the gubernatorial mansion in Sacramento to the White House here.
Davis, the incumbent, who was first elected by a landslide in 1998 was once talked of as potential presidential candidate. He was re-elected for a second term nine months ago, by a much smaller margin.
But in the six months that he has held office in his second term, his popularity has been deeply dented and is now down in the 20s in opinion polls.
Since July 1, California has no budget and Republicans in the state legislature are refusing to go along with dramatic tax increases proposed by Davis to close the state’s $38.2 billion deficit.
Car ownership tax has tripled and the state’s health care system is in tatters. California’s power crisis, which many blame on the now-bankrupt Enron, is still lingering although it is not as severe this year as in 2000 and 2001.
The dreams of the world’s fifth largest eceonomy, once fuelled by Hollywood and Silicon Valley, are fast turning into nightmares. Ironically, an election to recall Davis from office is expected to cost between $30 to $35 million.
Kevin Shelley, the state’s chief election officer, said last night that in California’s 58 counties, 1.3 million voters had signed petitions for a recall election. Only 897,158 signatures are required by law for such a special poll.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s advisor George Gorton said: “Arnold is discussing his candidacy with his family. He is weighing the pros and cons of a candidacy and has made no determination at this time as to whether he will run”. Republicans, who are aware of the actor’s charisma, are urging him to be a candidate.
Other Republicans who may run are Congressman Darrell Issa, who funded the recall signature campaign with $1.7 million of his own money and billionaire Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in the November election.
Although Shelley has cleared the way for a special election within 60 to 80 days, there is no guarantee that it will take place.
Supporters of Davis are going to court, alleging that many of the signatures for the recall petition were either forged or were improperly gathered by non-California residents.
This sequence of events may well lead to a prolonged legal battle and there are fears that the events in Florida during the US presdential election in 2000 may be repeated is some ways in California. But if Davis is ousted this year and replaced by a Republican, it will have a profound impact on President George W Bush’s re-election campaign next year.
California, a solidly Democratic state for a decade, has 54 electoral votes for choosing a president, the biggest for any state in the US.