LOS ANGELES (UPI) — Gray Davis’s legal team marched into the California Supreme Court Monday seeking to give voters a chance to vote for the beleaguered governor on both sides of the October recall ballot and, even more important in terms of campaign strategy, delay the entire matter until next spring.
Critics chided Davis for grasping at straws in his thus far unsuccessful efforts to derail the recall through the courts, however he only needs one such court to agree to delay the vote until next March in order to throw the recall into even greater confusion than it already is — thereby greatly improving his odds of remaining in office.
Monday’s case focused on what the Davis camp argues ensures a “fair” election, and the bottom line to fairness is more time — more time for the counties to prepare for the election and more time for voters to find out what the myriad of challengers stand for so they can make an informed choice.
“Suddenly, we’re faced with this recall election on Oct. 7 and that is going to make Florida look like a cakewalk,” Davis attorney Robin Johansen exclaimed to reporters in San Francisco Monday, referring to the infamous recount in the Sunshine State that ended with George W. Bush narrowly winning the 2000 presidential election.
In addition, Davis wants to hedge his bets by listing himself among the list of candidates to replace him. Davis’ recall campaign says that by listing Davis on the slate of candidates merely levels the playing field and guarantees constitutional protections for voters who might choose to vote for him.
As it stands, voters cast ballots on two separate questions — should Davis be recalled, and if he is given the proverbial boot from office, which candidate should replace him? The concern is that Davis supporters will cast their votes on the recall question, but not vote for Davis’ successor, thus giving them no say in who the new governor would be should Davis lose.
“Gov. Davis is barred from appearing on the ballot as a candidate. Thus he needs a majority of the vote on the first part of the ballot to remain in office,” the petition filed Monday read. “Anyone else, however, can become governor on the second part of the ballot with any percentage, no matter how small, so long as it represents the top number of votes on that second part.”
“Thus Gov. Davis can be recalled from office if he receives 49.9 percent of the vote, yet (Hustler publisher) Larry Flynt can be elected to that same office if he receives only 20 percent, or even less.”
Johansen said, “Single-digit plurality could elect the new governor, and we think that’s unconstitutional.”
The arguments will certainly require the attention of eminent legal minds such as the California justices, although the political implications of the case are far simpler to understand, and they have nothing to do with whether or not self-proclaimed smut peddler Flynt brings his act to Sacramento.
Time is currently not on Davis’ side as the first recall in state history looms on Oct. 7. The Democratic governor saw woeful approval ratings this summer as the Legislature became bogged down in partisan budget negotiations complicated by a huge deficit of $38 billion.
The problem for the Republicans is that while they have the momentum right now, a lot can change over the months as the budget fades from voters’ memories and state politics become overshadowed by the presidential derby. By March, voters may be a lot less passionate about the recall and decide they may as well allow Davis to serve out his last two years in peace.
Well over 200 hopefuls have taken out the paperwork needed to run for governor, but the rigors and expense of modern campaigning would no doubt whittle down that number significantly if the election is moved ahead to March and shares the ballot with the state’s presidential primary.
Analysts have reasoned that Davis would likely fair better in March because more Democrats would come out to the polls to vote against President Bush. No doubt that is true, however it will also give Davis some six months to bash the GOP frontrunners as a cabal of right-wing fanatics whose primary goal is sticking it to the little guy.
Davis is flush with money and has a committed army of allies among local Democratic elected officials and organized labor that will enable him to carry his message over the long haul. At the same time, high-profile Democrats such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein have so far politely agreed to stay out of the race.
The Republicans will have a split field of candidates of varying degrees of conservatism that has had its fund-raising timetables for 2006 upset. It would be reasonable to assume that the party might even have to pressure some of its lesser candidates drop out for the sake of party unity if the campaign stretches into next year.
The diminutive Davis is at his most effective when he is on the attack and will no doubt enjoy administering six months of payback and resurrecting his image as a national political figure after a long, hot summer of being badgered and underestimated by the recall crowd.
Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.