Recall sets a terrible precedent for our nation

In California, the dust is still settling from the recall race. The election of Arnold Schwarzenegger brings no catharsis to the world’s sixth-largest economy. While the recall was a fine display of media-manipulated democracy, it was unnecessary; it will not fix California’s budget deficit, it wasted time and $66 million, and it has set a terrible precedent for our nation.

Clearly the recall is legal, but what I take issue with is the voters’ motivations. California is not in a state of emergency, Gov. Gray Davis is not a criminal, and voters knew what they were getting when they re-elected him 11 months ago. Viewed in this light, the recall was completely unnecessary.

To Schwarzenegger’s supporters, he is the man to fix California’s troubles. But Schwarzenegger’s naive “no taxes” pledge in the face of an $8 billion budget shortfall reminds me of a president who once said, “Read my lips.” From his statements on the campaign trail, we know the new governor’s “solutions” are nonanswers to the wrong questions. The state budget is so filled with untouchable voter-mandated spending and commitments to the federal government, that 60 to 80 percent of the budget is off-limits. Where will Schwarzenegger make his “deep cuts”?

Schwarzenegger plans to repeal the vehicle license fee that was so critical in reducing the budget deficit, and make California less “hostile” to businesses, ostensibly to create jobs. Yet, as Paul Krugman wrote, “Since the mid-1990s, California has added jobs considerably faster than the nation as a whole.” Repealing the car tax increase will balloon the deficit to $12 billion, and Schwarzenegger’s plan to increase taxes on American Indian casinos (to pay for the larger deficit) sounds preposterous.

Beyond the disturbing economic reality Schwarzenegger faces, the recall also set an unusual precedent. It effectively says that when a fair, uncontested election is over, it is not actually over. Recall after recall can be organized and voted on, as per the law.

In California, Democrats are already gearing up to recall Arnold Schwarzenegger, a foolish idea that will merely perpetuate the circus.

California usually leads the nation in trends, and it is the second state in our history to recall a governor (North Dakotans did this in 1921). Nothing like this has happened in such an important state before, and I hope this does not lead to unnecessary recalls in the other 18 states that have recall provisions. At least Minnesota requires a decision on the part of the judiciary to initiate a recall.

I am not one who says the recall was undemocratic. Rather, it is not democratic in the way our nation has run its government for more than 200 years. Direct democracy was roundly rejected by the founding fathers. They saw that too much of it led to mob rule and “spectacles of turbulence and contention.” In a system based on representation, a candidate should be voted for, suffered through and ejected in the next election if he proves himself terrible.

Despite the promises made by the recall crowd – that the recall would stimulate the electorate, give third parties a real chance of winning and that the winner would be better suited to tackle California’s problems – none of this has come to pass with the recall. Third parties quickly faded to the background of the race or dropped out. Voter turnout was very high, in part because the media gave more attention to California’s race than the ongoing Democratic presidential primary race (note: instead of actors and strippers they are almost all lawyers).

California will still be a mess under Schwarzenegger, and he faces a Democratic majority in California’s Legislature. For all of Schwarzenegger’s bluster, I doubt he will find it easy to do what Davis could not.

Perhaps recall provisions are good for emergencies, when a real crook has found his way into office. Of course, Davis was not a real crook; he was merely a governor whose attempts to balance an out-of-control budget were stymied by Republicans in the California Legislature. Davis took the fall, soon Californians will forget their problems, and the Terminator will fix everything. Right?

Mitch Mosvick is a University student. He welcomes comments at [email protected]