Usually, it's safe to wait until after an election to
analyze what happened, but I'm convinced that Gov. Gray
Davis - California's unloved, unlovable and incompetent
governor - is history, despite the last-minute "puke
politics" aimed at Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Few polls have shown Davis within spitting distance
of surviving, although I'm waiting to see the ones
released after a newspaper with an anti-Schwarzenegger
bent mysteriously published the groping story right
before the election.
Nevertheless, I'm going out on a limb and releasing
my list of the Top 10 Stupidest Events of the recall
before the election takes place:
1. Gray Davis' decision to run left.
I was convinced that, up until he gave his fateful
"right-wing conspiracy" speech on Aug. 19, the gray
governor could have beaten the odds and convinced
Californians to keep him in office, despite the $38
billion deficit and his notorious mishandling (no
handling, really) of the electricity crisis.
Mingling with the trial lawyers, public-employee
union reps, Indian casinos and left-wing activists who
keep his fund-raising machine well-oiled, Davis
convinced himself that California's electorate is
further to the left than it actually is. Yes, the state
is heavily Democratic and the surging Latino population
leans strongly in that direction, but most voters still
eschew high taxes and left-wing activism.
Davis labeled the recall part of an "ongoing national
effort to steal elections Republicans cannot win." This
played to his base, but was an insult to everyone else.
The defining moment of the leftward drift was his
signing of legislation granting driver's licenses to
illegal immigrants. Even many Davis' supporters viewed
it as pandering, given that Davis twice before rejected
such a bill.
Had Davis really apologized, and gone back to the
tried-and-true "man of the middle" formula that got him
elected in the first place, he would be facing a better
result on Tuesday.
2. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante's refusal to distance
himself from MEChA, the Latino separatist group he
belonged to as a student.
MEChA, which stands for Movimiento Estudiantil
Chicano de Aztlan, has as its motto: "Por La Raza todo,
Fuera de La Raza nada," which means "For the race
everything, for those outside the race, nothing." It's
hard to see that as anything but a racist slogan,
especially given MEChA's call for a return of the
American southwest to Mexico.
Bustamante could have been a stand-up guy and
emphasized that his past association with such a group
is in the past, that the group's motto and political
platform is noxious, and that he eschews separatism and
heartily endorses a colorblind society.
Instead Bustamante pandered, even during last week's
debate in which he was given a perfect opportunity to
repudiate the slogan. As a result, he permanently
alienated much of the electorate, which in part explains
his inability to rise much in the polls.
3. Bustamante's "tough love" plan for
What's so tough about promising interest groups every
spending desire, then imposing the costs on taxpayers
through at least $8 billion in tax increases?
Bustamante's plan would undermine Proposition 13
protections for small business owners and would impose a
socialized health-care system on California businesses
at a time when the business climate is troubled. During
the latest debate, he even said he would probably sign
legislation letting local cities impose income taxes,
confirming him as someone who will dramatically increase
taxes on everyone.
4. Depiction by the liberal media of the recall
as a circus.
There are so many examples from the East Coast
and California also, but the theme was the same: Look at
the crazy California voters throwing a hissy fit. Look
at all the silly candidates who are running on themes
such as legalizing ferrets and exempting lap dances from
taxes. Ha, ha. Isn't this so funny? Yet these elites
largely ignored the real frustrations that drove the
recall. Yes, Republicans pushed it forward, but they
would not have succeeded had Davis not been such a
bumbler, and had the state's business climate, tax and
regulatory climate, and political climate not gotten so
5. The inability of Arnold Schwarzenegger and
Tom McClintock to cut a deal and present a unified front
to the electorate.
Frankly, Schwarzenegger's unapproachable
celebrity status and arrogance combined with
McClintock's intractability almost botched (and still
could botch) the entire recall effort. I think highly of
both men and have been happy McClintock has been in the
race to make clear limited-government arguments
Schwarzenegger hasn't made. Still, there's time to fight
and time to unify. I still think McClintock should be
offered and should accept the role of finance director
if Schwarzenegger wins.
6. Bustamante's Indian casino money gambit.
A few years ago, most Californians looked upon the
tribes with sympathy and approved of their gambling
plans to pull impoverished Indians out of poverty. By
showering money on Bustamante, the tribes created a new,
less-sympathetic image. And Bustamante's refusal to play
by the rules - refusing to cancel Indian-sponsored ads
in defiance of a judge's ruling - gave him the image of
a corrupt pol, no better than Davis.
7. Insistence by leading Democrats and liberals
that the state's business climate is good.
During the debate, Arianna Huffington, Peter
Camejo and Cruz Bustamante pooh-poohed the arguments of
Schwarzenegger and McClintock that the state's business
climate is going south (east, actually!). Where have
these people been? California has lost 300,000
manufacturing jobs in the past three years largely
because of new taxes, regulations, expanding workers'
compensation costs, and the sense that new onerous and
costly bills (i.e., health insurance mandates) are
coming down the pike.
New jobs have been created, but almost solely in the
low-paid retail sector. California has gotten an F in
business climate issues in new reports. Yes,
Californians will pay more to live here, but at a
certain point if a business can't make money it will go
to friendlier business climates, even if the actual
climate is ferocious (such as in Nevada and
8. Schwarzenegger's refusal to embrace
University of California Regent Ward Connerly's noble
effort to restrict the collection by government of
non-essential racial and ethnic data would help bring
multi-cultural California beyond the politics of race
and ethnicity. Austrian immigrant Schwarzenegger could
have been a compelling voice for a colorblind society,
but instead took the safe path and unfairly depicted the
effort as divisive.
9. The three-judge panel's decision to delay
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case brought
by the American Civil Liberties Union and cheered by
Davis supporters, reinvigorated the recall effort after
an activist panel tried to circumvent the will of the
people based on the shoddiest reasoning. Fortunately,
the 11-member "en banc" panel reviewed and reversed the
decision by a unanimous vote.
10. Davis' tripling of the vehicle license fee.
Talk about manna for Republicans. Although Davis
claims, unbelievably, that the fee increase was tripled
by a mechanism put in place by Gov. Pete Wilson,
everyone knows it was Davis who sought a way to boost
the tax without taking blame. It was emblematic of
Davis' approach to governance - refusing to stand up for
his principles, underhanded and obsessed with avoiding
blame for any bad