Frustrated voters approve recall, reject racist Prop. 54

OAKLAND, Calif. – Frustrated Californians voted to recall Democratic Gov. Gray Davis Oct. 7 and replace him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There is little sign that the vote represented a tilt to the right by California voters. Proposition 54, the ultra-right ballot initiative prohibiting collection of data based on race, went down to a resounding 67 percent defeat. “It’s a great victory against racism and for diversity,” Dorothea Revell, statewide secretary of the California NAACP, told the World.

In his speech Tuesday evening, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante said of Prop. 54, “California is saying no more wedge politics.” He indirectly criticized Schwarzenegger for “shamelessly” attacking Native Americans over their campaign contributions.

At the same time, Schwarzenegger spent nearly $23 million, largely from big business interests, including $10.3 million from his own wealth, despite his hypocritical promise that he would take no money from “special interests.”

Schwarzenegger’s handlers hid his right-wing positions while transforming his campaign into a celebrity-driven extravaganza. Schwarzenegger, himself, posed as a “moderate” and an “outsider,” a populist supporter of abortion rights and gun control and an opponent of Prop. 54. In his victory speech, he thanked the television media for “always showing great shots and good pictures.” It contrasted with the campaigns of Davis, Arianna Huffington, and other candidates to lay out a clear, coherent platform on basic issues.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, speaking to a rally here on the eve of the vote, warned that Schwarzenegger is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Schwarzenegger and his team cultivated a moderate image to hide the politically intimate “Bush-Schwarzenegger connection.”

Judy Goff, head of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, noted “a lot of lies and confusion” both about the drive to recall Davis and about Schwarzenegger’s true agenda, which she linked to the “far right” of the Republican Party.

Schwarzenegger’s entire campaign was directed by Republican insiders like former Gov. Pete Wilson, former Secretary of State George Shultz and billionaire Warren Buffett.

Schwarzenegger’s main campaign theme was that California has an “unfriendly business climate” and must slash taxes on banks and corporations, reduce workers compensation and other employee benefits and terminate regulations to lure business back to the state.

A CNN exit poll revealed that the economic crisis was the overriding issue with 83 percent of those polled describing the economy as “not so good” or “poor.”

Presidential candidate Howard Dean, one of several leading Democratic candidates who came to California to help oppose the recall, said, “This recall was about the frustration so many people are feeling about the way things are going. All across America, George Bush’s massive tax cuts for the wealthy are undermining state budgets, causing cutbacks in services and increase in local property taxes. Tonight voters directed their frustration with the country’s direction on one incumbent governor. Come next November, that anger might be directed at another incumbent – in the White House.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), minority leader of the House, told reporters the recall “is a sad night for our country. … Now we have the cavalier notion that a recall without just cause is OK.” She added, “I think the message in California is a message for President Bush: “Stop your reckless economic policies that are resulting in record joblessness … and record deficits.’”

The California AFL-CIO, the African American and Latino communities, the women’s movement, gays and lesbians and environmentalists waged a determined campaign. The AFL-CIO mobilized phone banks in 80 cities and towns and went door to door urging a “No recall” and “No on Prop. 54” vote. There were dozens of spirited rallies as Davis and his allies crisscrossed the state. Millions of leaflets, letters and e-mails were sent out.

The CNN exit poll showed that African American and Jewish voters overwhelmingly, and Latinos by a majority, voted no on recall. But expectations that women would vote strongly against Schwarzenegger did not materialize as 47 percent voted for him and 47 percent against. But 80 percent of African American women and a strong majority of Latinas voted no on the recall.

The poll showed that 67 percent of San Francisco Bay Area voters and 53 percent of Los Angeles County voters opposed recall but this margin was not strong enough to offset the 71 percent of Southern Californians and 69 percent of inland and Central Valley voters who favored the recall.

Schwarzenegger captured just over 50 percent of the vote despite a last minute detailed report in the Los Angeles Times Oct. 2 in which 15 women charged that Schwarzenegger had physically molested them, one case as recent as three years ago. That same day the New York Times revealed that Schwarzenegger once admitted that he admired Adolph Hitler.

The charges against Schwarzenegger are so serious they may pursue him into the governor’s mansion. The CNN poll showed that only 49 percent of voters had a “favorable” impression of Schwarzenegger while 45 percent had an “unfavorable” impression. And fully two-thirds of the voters believed that Schwarzenegger “did not address the issues” according to another poll.

During the seven week campaign, Davis signed a series of bills including a groundbreaking bill that will require employers to provide health care for their workers starting in 2006 or pay into a state health care fund. It would extend health care to one million workers. Davis also signed a bill to grant undocumented immigrants the right to obtain driver’s licenses. Schwarzenegger has vowed to repeal the driver’s license bill and may attempt to scuttle the health care bill as “unfriendly” to business.

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org. Tim Wheeler contributed to this article.