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Sunday, June 15, 2003
Over the past 20 years, the California Republican Party, once strong and proud and able to elect Earl Warren, Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian, and Pete Wilson to the Governor's office, has become a shell of itself. The reason for this is simple. California is a pretty liberal state. We are tolerant of gays, not particularly religious, not entirely committed to the War on Drugs, and supportive of government spending on services. There are some exceptions to this-- Californians don't like taxes, and many Californians don't like illegal immigrants-- but on a whole, the state is certainly a Blue state.

In most Blue states, the Republicans thrive by moving towards a more libertarian bent. For instance, liberal Maine has two GOP Senators-- Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins-- but both of them are social liberals and fiscal moderates. But here in California, the only voters to regularly vote in Republican primaries are neanderthal conservatives. Thus, Ms. Snowe or Ms. Collins would never be able to win a Republican primary here. As a result, Republicans lost every statewide office in the most recent elections, and just about the only elected Republicans here are Congressmen, state Senators, and Assemblymen who represent safe seats filled with gerrymandered hard-right conservative voters.

I don't want to imply that every elected Republican in California is a far-right wacko-- David Drier, for instance, hails from a conservative Pomona district but is a very smart and fundamentally decent congressman. But Rep. Drier is the exception-- most elected Republicans in this state are far, far to the right of Californians as a whole.

Gray Davis has capitalized on this. Twice, he has beaten candidates who are too far to the right to be elected Governor of California. In 1998, he beat Dan Lungren, and in 2002, Bill Simon (who in addition to being an extreme right-winger, was also an incompetent camaigner). Not too many people really like Davis here; rather, he was elected both times as the lesser of two evils.

But there are two important points here. First, a lesser of two evils winner is not illegitimate-- voters may have longed for a better choice, but Davis won his elections fair and square. And if Davis was so horrible a governor, they could have thrown him out in 2002. Second, the Republicans' losses are their own fault-- they are unable to nominate candidates palatable to the majority of Californians. Only if they continue to lose elections will the GOP learn its lesson and shift to where the votes are. (This is something that happened at the national level to Democrats with Bill Clinton.)

But, of course, the ideologues in the California Republican Party do not want to shift. So, instead, they have produced the silver bullet-- California's 1911 recall law, which has never been used against a sitting governor. Basically, if the Republicans can get enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot (and that is easy to do if the money is spent), they can have a yes-no vote on Davis along with a second vote on a list of candidates. It is very possible for unpopular Davis to be removed in a yes-no vote (where he doesn't have the advantage of running against an extremist Republican candidate), and it is possible for someone to win the recall election off the list of candidates with far less than 50 percent of the vote.

This is a perversion of democracy. It amounts to the Republicans saying that because they were unable to get their act together and nominate a moderate candidate to beat Gray Davis, they get to waste the taxpayers' money (special elections cost big bucks) creating an election under more favorable rules that might allow a right-winger with only narrow support among the electorate to sneak in and become the next Governor of California.

Further, it would set a horrible precedent-- I would assume that the Democrats would not wait long to launch another recall effort to knock out the illegitimate Republican victor of the special election.

You don't have to think that Gray Davis is the best possible Governor to recognize that he should be permitted to serve his 4 year term and that Republicans should find a candidate who could contest for the seat in 2006 and be palatable to the majority of Californians. Perhaps Rep. Drier could run.

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