Thursday, November 6, 2003

7. Is recall a true reflection?

In one sense, the California recall is an exercise of democracy- the people, acting through the rules of government, voting to oust elected leadership that has performed unsatisfactorily. In another sense, it is the continuation of the never-ending partisan battles that continue to plaque our country. From the beginning, George Washington himself warned of party-led politics. And today, with so much at stake- from the elections themselves, to special interest groups and lobbyists, to the naming of the judges who interrupt our laws, its no wonder that we live in a world of political warfare. There might never be a finer example of political conflict than the 2000 presidential election, in which the pro-republican Supreme Court overstepped their boundaries, and previous rulings, to essentially decide the election of our president. The simplicity of what an election should detail, has become a bogged down legal affair. The California recall was no different, from the recall itself to the already legal battles over when the election was to occur and even whether or not it was constitutional.

It's amazing to listen to intelligent, knowledgeable political analysts that, based on partisanship, report the same event from two completely different perspectives. Where has the objectiveness gone? To listen to the side opposing your personal views inspires outrage at the obviousness of their distortions and lies. Of course, the other side feels the same way. Every event, every word, is analyzed with both parties searching for the slightest advantage. In the California recall, the Democrats claim that Arnold Schwarzenegger groped and acted inappropriately with women; the Republicans counter that this was a political move and that the women that came forward were not credible. This is just one example in which both sides are adamant and convincing.

The recall itself is a frightening precedent. Only 12 percent of the voters from the previous election need to sign the petition to enact a recall. Consider any close election and it is easy to speculate how easily this might be accomplished. The case against Gray Davis is that he won a close, low-turnout election and that under his leadership the California budget has suffered an eight billion dollar deficit. Does that sound like anyone else? Under this system, and these conditions, how difficult would it be to recall our current President? At least Gray Davis didn't promise weapons of mass destruction!

The election procedure itself is flawed under certain circumstances- although it didn't play a role in this election. The first part of the election was whether or not to recall Gray Davis. In this case, although not enough to save his job, 45% voted "no"- thus voicing their opinion that they want Davis to continue as Governor. The next part of the election is to decide who should succeed the Governor in the case of a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger won with 49% of the vote. But, he COULD'VE won with 33% had the balance voted among the 100 or so lesser known candidates. In this situation, 45% of the voters would have expressed their desire for Gray Davis to continue as Governor, while only 33% of the voters would prefer that Arnold Schwarzenegger assume Governorship- yet Arnold Schwarzenegger would be the Governor-elect.

Although I am a resolute defender of democracy- I would argue against the recall on a couple points. Besides, as I have already mentioned, that I think it is too easy to initiate a recall and that under circumstances the less popular candidate can be elected, I am bothered to the fact that this was a recently reelected politician. There is discussion as to the spirit of the recall legislation, whether it was put in place to recall extreme misconduct, or to be used to dictate the result of changing voter preference. But in this case, Californians, less than a year ago, actively reelected Gray Davis; thus my point is if he was so incompetent, they certainly had their chance.

Of his possible successors, it's a shame that it inevitably came down to a popularity contest. While Arnold Schwarzenegger has done a lot for charities and with kids, his campaign was almost cartoon-like. He has no government experience, and, at times, appeared to be researching for a movie part- clich├ęd lines and all! Meanwhile candidates with serious credentials such as senator, law school president, scientist and engineer were, for the most part, ignored.

The recall cost Californians upwards of 65 million dollars. However, by creating precedent and entrenching the animosity between the country's two major political parties, this could just be the beginning- the beginning of legal battles, controversy and wasted taxpayer dollars. The Democrats have now suffered two controversial defeats in the last three years and with a presidential election forthcoming next year- the fight may have just begun.

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