California recall has makings of coup

News analysis

The attempted recall of California Democratic Gov. Gray Davis has all the markings of another Republican Florida-style ballot-box coup. The situation is very fluid and volatile, but the underlying class and social forces are shaping up for a mega-battle.

While the front man for this anti-democratic effort is Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the fingerprints of the Bush administration are in evidence. In June, State Senate Republican Minority Leader Jim Brulte, state co-chair for Bush in 2000, noted, “California has a great opportunity either to be a state that adds 55 (electoral) votes to a big (presidential) GOP win, or the state that burns up big Democratic resources.”

The weekend before the recall qualified for the ballot, Bush’s top strategist, Karl Rove, was huddling with top national and state GOP leaders at the infamous Bohemian Grove in California.

Any public perception of Bush administration involvement could spell trouble for the recall effort. Bush lost to Al Gore in California by 1.4 million votes and many voters in the state are still angry over the anti-democratic tactics of the Republicans in Florida during the 2000 presidential race.

Moreover, on policy issues – the economy, health care, the occupation of Iraq, a woman’s right to choose, civil rights, gun control, the environment – Bush’s ultra-right policies are at odds with a majority of Californians. The Democratic Party leadership had it right when they said the recall effort is an attempt to impose a right-wing agenda on the state.

“The recall backers are trying to roll back years of progress on civil rights, education, health care and a woman’s right to choose,” Art Pulaski, secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation AFL-CIO recently stated, on behalf of the newly-formed, broadly-based coalition Stand for California.

Davis is a centrist politician prone to corporate influence, yet he has favored or signed important pro-worker, pro-people legislation – at times under popular pressure – that a Republican governor is not likely even to consider.

The Republican ultra-right charges that Davis mismanaged the California energy, economic and budget crises, and is to blame for the budget gridlock.

But, it is mainly the capitalist economic crisis and the Bush administration’s reactionary tax, budget and war policies that have put the states in the worst budget crisis since the 1940s. And despite the state GOP’s deceptive claims to not raise taxes, it’s Bush’s policies that have forced the issue of new taxes and fee increases on working people and the poor at state and local levels.

Electricity deregulation was passed during the Republican’s watch years ago. It was also Bush’s pal, Enron CEO Ken Lay, who led the pack of energy monopolies that gamed the California electricity market for super-profits. And, it was the Bush Republican-controlled Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that voted to deny California consumers relief.

As for the budget gridlock, the Republican minority in the state legislature held the budget hostage to demand major cuts in social and environmental programs that are popular in California.

The majority of Californians oppose most tax and fee increases that Davis and the Democrats proposed, which contributed to Davis’ unpopularity. But this year, Davis finally backed a bill by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton and other progressive Democrats for the one tax the majority of Californians favor – raising taxes on the rich to help close the budget deficit.

Complicating the situation is the so-called Racial Privacy Act, which is on the Oct. 7 ballot along with the recall. If passed, this initiative would forbid state and local governments from classifying students, contractors and employees by race, ethnicity, color or national origin – making it difficult, if not impossible, to assess state programs designed to overcome racial and national discrimination. Many see it for what it is – a Racist Act, which could be more appropriately titled “The Anti-Diversity Act.”

To defeat this proposition and the recall means more fully involving the progressive sectors of the people, inside and outside the Democratic Party. It also means winning over those in the middle and, to the extent possible, winning or at least neutralizing as many on the right as possible.

In this politically charged situation, it remains to be seen which political figures will file to run for governor by the Aug. 9 deadline. But, if Davis is recalled it will be a Republican with deep pockets who stands to get elected, one who could give invaluable help to the Bush for President re-election campaign in California and to Republicans in closely contested races.

The main social forces defending democracy from another Florida-style electoral theft by the far right are poised for the struggle of our lives and, as the saying goes, “Si, se puede!”

Juan Lopez is the Communist Party USA’s district organizer of Northern California and can be reached at ncalview@igc.org