Big stakes in Calif. recall

LOS ANGELES – The effort to recall California Gov. Gray Davis involves more than the fate of a Democratic governor. At stake is the future political direction not only of California but our nation.

While President Bush and the national Republican Party have tried to publicly portray a neutral appearance, make no mistake about it – the attempt to recall Gov. Davis has the Bush administration stamped all over it.

The GOP is attempting to disrupt the progressive direction which California’s electorate has adopted, but the recall is also part of a bigger picture.

Just like the stolen election in Florida in 2000 and the current unscrupulous effort by Texas Republican legislators to win more GOP seats by redrawing Texas congressional districts in their favor, the California recall drive is a crucial piece in the extreme right’s strategy to maintain their control of the White House and Congress in 2004.

Millions of dollars from extreme right-wing coffers are invested in the recall. The maneuvering of President Bush’s top political advisor, Karl Rove, is evident. California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres told the media, “Karl Rove’s fingerprints are all over this.”

First lady Laura Bush’s media secretary, Noelia Rodriguez, was in Los Angeles two weeks ago helping former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan put together a possible campaign team for a gubernatorial run. Riordan was President Bush’s first choice in last year’s gubernatorial primary.

This week, the national AFL-CIO Executive Council called the recall “a blatant power grab” and “an ultra-conservative coup attempt.”

The AFL-CIO pledged to mobilize their union members throughout the state to defeat the recall. They also urged all potential Democratic candidates to stay off the ballot and to join them in a united effort to support the governor.

Unfortunately, there are a number of Democratic elected officials in California who are blinking in the face of the unprecedented GOP attack and are considering running. That would be a big mistake.

California is a state where labor, racial minorities and women have worked together to mobilize an electorate to decisively vote against Republicans and their agenda in all the recent major elections. As a result, Democrats hold a strong majority in California’s congressional seats, all statewide offices and a strong majority in the state legislature. That has led to the passage of some of the most pro-labor, pro-people legislation in the nation. Gov. Davis accurately told the national AFL-CIO this week that he has been one of the best governors in the country in support of working families.

Politically destabilizing the anti-Republican bloc in California would be a big prize to the GOP. That is their goal and, as in Florida, they are prepared to use any undemocratic and dishonest means necessary.

While demagogically attacking Gov. Davis for the state’s economic problems, state GOP legislators held the budget hostage by refusing to consider any measure to raise taxes for the super-wealthy in California. All the while, they continued to propose cutbacks on socially necessary programs. The recall itself is costing Californians millions of wasted tax dollars.

The recall is, at its core, an attack on democratic elections. Under the recall vote rules, a candidate needs only a small plurality (i.e., not a majority) of the vote to win, as long as he or she is the top vote getter. California law bars Gov. Davis from having his name appear on the ballot as a candidate. The irony is that the recall could succeed with Davis getting more anti-recall votes than the person elected governor.

Many counties have announced that, due to lack of funds, they will cut the number of polling sites. Los Angeles County, Contra Costa County and Sonoma County will cut the number of polling places in half. The NAACP has called for pushing back the date of the election to correct this, because the consolidation of polling places will disenfranchise voters, particularly low-income and minority voters.

The stakes are high in California. The national implications of the recall are evidenced by the fact that all nine Democratic candidates for president signed an open letter this week against it. The sharply worded letter said, “California has charted a course for a progressive agenda that can be a model for America, but now those achievements are under attack by the ambitious Republicans who are sponsoring this recall.’’

Californians need to defend our hard won achievements and unite into the broadest all people’s front against the attempted coup. That is the critical political challenge for us all. It is more than Gov. Davis: it is about our state and nation’s future.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com