Davis Strikes Back

In a televised speech Tuesday night, Governor Gray Davis lashed out against the Republican-backed drive to oust him. Davis asked Californians to fight against the “right wing power grab” that threatens “lasting damage to our state, our environment and the very fabric of our democracy.” Davis characterized the recall as another GOP scheme to steal elections that Republicans wouldn’t otherwise be able to win (remember Florida?).

Davis acknowledged some of his political mistakes Tuesday night, although he told Californians that he had simply inherited the state’s energy and budget crisis. So far, his campaign to defeat the recall has been low-key. Davis has been trying to sell himself as Mr. pious, chugging along in faithful service to the state. It sounds good, but columnist Jennifer Nelson points out in the San Francisco Chronicle that Davis’s priorities have always put public policy second:

“After spending his first term in office doing nothing but raising money, Davis now wants the public to believe that he intends to focus on the people’s business. ‘Whether I have 64 days or three and a half years, I will spend virtually all of my time on the state’s priorities,’ he said last week during a visit to Chicago.

Gee, why was our governor out of the state, you ask? Was he meeting with bond officials to convince them to raise California’s downgraded credit rating? Was he meeting with Illinois officials to find out how that state wooed a major employer like Boeing to the Prairie State?

No, not our governor. He was in Chicago to ask labor leaders to give him millions of dollars to fight the voters’ recall.”

Such political blunders don’t bode well for a governor whose approval ratings are sinking fast. But fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign couldn’t be happier — they see this as the prime opportunity to turn the terminator into the governator. Recent polls show Schwarzenegger in the lead, ahead of hundreds of other recall contestants. Adam Sparks of the Chronicle thinks that despite the state’s Democratic leanings, Californians find Schwarzenegger’s hearty laugh and foreign accent to be more important than his political qualifications.

Many commentators agree that most of the recall campaigns are not about to win political strategy awards. Attorney and academic, Kenneth P. Miller, argues in the Los Angeles Times that Latinos could also benefit from a better recall strategy. Miller is critical of the many Latino groups who have been focusing their energies on postponing the recall. These groups argue that all elections should be postponed until the state can replace all punchcard voting machines. Such machines have been blamed for the 2000 presidential election scandal in Florida. Miller argues that since the punchcard machines have not caused a problem in California, Latinos should choose a different battle, and work on registering immigrants who could help elect Cruz Bustamante as the state’s first Latino governor.

“If voters decide to recall Gov. Gray Davis, Bustamante has a great advantage in the race to succeed him. As Republicans split their votes, the lieutenant governor will probably win the lion’s share of the Democratic vote. That should be enough for him to overcome even a strong showing by Schwarzenegger.

Why should Latino advocacy groups continue to seize on relatively inconsequential legal claims and thereby possibly forestall the election of a Latino governor? Is it residual loyalty to Davis, a certain ambivalence toward Bustamante or something else?”

Miller also wonders if the “something else” might just be fear of Proposition 54, otherwise known as the Racial Privacy Initiative. It’s a piece of legislation appearing on the recall ballot that would limit the ability of public institutions to gather and use information about a person’s race or ethnicity. Latino and other minority organizations strongly oppose the measure. Beating it could be their real priority.

Good strategy or not, Vicki Haddock writes in the Chronicle, that the recall might be one of those political/media trainwrecks that people just can’t look away from:

“The recall draws cameras from E!, ‘Access Hollywood’ and Hong Kong Phoenix Satellite. It’s as if the election were ‘The People’s Choice Awards – Sacramento.’ TV news operations are treating the story as a combo O.J./Monica Lewinsky and Princess Di. One TV reporter said he’d covered more political stories in the last two weeks than in the preceding five years.

Whether the frenzy will last and whether it will draw hordes to the polls aren’t sure bets, but nobody’s yawning and flipping channels yet.”


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