July 31, 2003
Harrop on the Recall

In an Op-Ed appearing in today's Seattle Times, entitled California scheming, Froma Harrop weighs in on the California recall effort against Gray Davis, with a few comments that I feel need a reply.

The story changes little. Republicans tied up the United States government for months as they exploited embarrassing revelations about President Clinton's sex life. For their trouble, voters sent more Democrats to Congress in the next election. (Clinton's own job-approval ratings soared.) When Democrats play the game, the results are similar. All serious opposition to Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court collapsed after Democrats flogged him with fishy allegations of sexual harassment.

Half a loaf on that. She's quite right about the Bill Clinton fiasco (I'm not going to debate the validity of the whole impeachment; that's another story), but she is wrong in her claim that all serious opposition to Thomas dried up after the sexual-harassment claims began. In fact, she is 100% wrong; if not for the sexual-harassment issue, Thomas would have sailed through his confirmation hearings, as the Democrats in the Senate Judiciary committee were not yet using conservatism (or lack thereof) as a primary criterion for judicial suitability. In today's climate, the allegations against Thomas would never have come to light, as Leahy and Shumer would lead the charge to keep his nomination from coming up for a vote.

While history is not encouraging, for many California Republicans, the play's the thing. Political theater offers high entertainment value. Governing is a drag. And so the GOP faithful are in party mode as they receive spiritual guidance from conservative radio talk-show hosts.

This appears to be a variation on the whole "Conservatives are easily led sheep" trope so fashionable amongst the east coast liberal establishment. I thought Froma Harrop lived in Providence, not Manhattan.

The recall's money man has been U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a millionaire from San Diego. Issa has had several brushes with the law, including a felony auto-theft charge when he was 27, well past the age of puberty.

A charge that was dismissed, due to lack of evidence. Issa was never even charged with a misdemeanor, and there is an important circumstantial point to Issa's case that suggests his innocence—his brother, who was also charged in the case, is a convicted auto thief. (Read this Google-cached article from the San Diego Union-Tribune; the original is not available online.)

A drop in popularity is not cause to replace an elected official in the middle of a term. The only ground for doing so is malfeasance official misconduct in public affairs. Davis has broken no law.

Bollixing a state's budget as badly as Davis has is malfeasance; the DEFICIT faced by the state this year was larger than the TOTAL BUDGET of 42 states. That is incompetence on a grand scale. While the sluggish economy shares a portion of the blame, Davis used his enormous campaign funds to interfere in the Republican primary, and flatly lied about the dire state of the economy during last fall's campaign. If he had been honest about the looming budget deficit, he would have been incinerated at the polls by any GOP candidate.

All this political swordplay is not doing much for California's debt rating, now approaching the junk-bond level. The lower the bond rating, the more interest California must pay to borrow money.

When Davis took office, the state had an AAA bond rating (it had dropped during Pete Wilson's term, but had risen back to the top by election time. The most recent downgrading was attributed to the recall effort, but it was not a serious drop, nor was it the only one. It pales in comparison to the damage done by Davis's past policies.

Other than some instant political gratification, there is little upside here for California Republicans. If they succeed in hijacking the governorship, they will be stuck with solving the state's economic mess.

The California GOP has little to lose; the state Assembly and Senate are still solidly in Democratic hands, so a refusal on their part to make the necessary spending cuts will reflect poorly on them, not on a GOP governor. In fact, California has become so much a one-party state that every single statewide office is held by a Democrat, and they have almost 2/3 majorities n both chambers of the state congress. For the GOP, due to Democratic gerrymandering, they cannot possibly go much further down (the few seats they hold now are pretty much GOP strongholds); some strong leadership by a new governor could translate into significant gains by the GOP next election cycle.

This alone is

posted on July 31, 2003 08:21 PM


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