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August 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 


You can be Governor of your state!

You can draft your own state laws!

You can toss out any state elected official that you don’t like!

You can do it all, if you live in a state that has a "no fault" provision to recall elected officials and allows voter propositions and initiatives to replace the normal legislative process. If this brand of democracy appeals to you, you need to be in California.

Puerto Ricans – there are relatively few living in California – who are tiring of the never-ending political status debate on the island might want to try living within the vicissitudes of the wide-open scrambling for political power that is playing out in the nation’s most populous state.

As a registered voter in California you could draft a ballot initiative, get 5% of the electorate to sign in favor of it, and get it placed on an up-coming ballot. Then, if a majority votes for it, it becomes law. Some initiatives have broad implications, but others are trivial. For instance, among propositions to be brought to California voters in the next general election are three prohibiting certain farm animals and pregnant pigs from being tethered or confined so that they are unable to turn around.

Sorry! It is too late for you to be Governor of California. The state already has one. His name is Gray Davis, a Democrat, and he was elected in 2002 for a second four-year term by a majority of the state’s voters. But Gray Davis may not be Governor of California for much longer. Earlier this year, wealthy Republican U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa, representing California’s 49th District, used his own money to begin a recall process of Davis and the election of a new Governor. Some speculated that Congressman Issa had himself in mind as the Gray Davis replacement.

Governor Davis ran into political problems when energy “brown-outs” occurred as electric power brokers - like the Enron Corporation – outrageously inflated energy costs to a state already burdened with budget shortfalls. Subsequently, his refusal to cut certain social programs in the current budget, and his implied threat to raise state taxes and fees to sustain them, put him at odds with conservatives and Republicans in the legislature. The latter refused to provide the votes necessary to pass the budget under California's two-thirds requirement and caused his approval ratings to tumble. In political terms, he became vulnerable to a recall challenge.

The first recall process in the state’s history was sealed when California’s Secretary of State announced that 58 counties reported the collection of some 1.3 million valid signatures, 400 thousand more than necessary. That having been achieved, the Democratic Lieutenant Governor, Cruz Bustamante, was required by state law to schedule a special election.

California Democrats, holding a majority of the state’s registered voters, characterized the recall as "a Republican coup d’état." Governor Davis was quick to put his spin on the recall, "This election is not about changing governors, it's about changing direction, and I believe the voters of California are going to opt for a progressive agenda, not a conservative agenda." Conversely, state and national Republicans were jubilant. The ultra-conservative Cato Institute hailed it as "a victory for taxpayers," and a way to avoid "crippling new tax increases."

The recall election is now scheduled for October 7th. On a single ballot, voters will first indicate "Yes or No" if Davis should be recalled. If a majority says "No," then the recall does not succeed and Davis remains Governor. If a majority votes "Yes," each voter chooses one name from a list of 135 candidates. The person with the most votes – no matter how small the number - becomes governor. Anyone may qualify if he or she is a registered voter in California and pays a $3,500 entry fee. The fee can be waved in some cases.

Although it is not clear who will be the ultimate winner in this complex process, some immediate winners have emerged. The first are the advertising departments of California radio and TV stations now clearing airtime for political ads and the second are comedy writers who have been handed a treasure trove of gag material. The laughter began when actor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his candidacy on NBC’s "Tonight Show," as host Jay Leno feigned surprise. Then, as other names on the candidate list emerged, the nationwide chuckles began.

Mary Carey, a featured player in XXX-rated movies, is on the ballot. If elected, her solution for the state’s budget crunch is to install reality cameras in the bedroom of the Governor’s mansion and set up a state-run "pay-for-view" website. Smut publisher, Larry Flynt, another candidate, presumably approves of Ms. Cary’s idea, although he has yet to come up with his own financial plan for California. Other candidates, including Sumo wrestler "Tachikaze," Golf professional "Chip" Mailander and stand-up comedian Leo Gallagher have yet to announce campaign platforms, but their visibility is growing in the state’s comedy clubs. Robert Dole, Michael Jackson and Edward Kennedy are all on the ballot. The first is a small business owner, the second a satellite project manager and the third a businessman/educator.

But the implications of this recall are not laughing matters. Mr. Schwarzenegger, a political novice, has huge name-recognition and is being backed by a bevy of Republican advisors dubbing him "another Ronald Regan." Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante, as the leading Democrat on the candidate list, is against the recall of his boss but is making himself available as an alternative to Gray Davis, should he be recalled. Among the "Notorious 135" are substantial - but relatively unknown - Californians. Some, such as author and columnist Arianna Huffington, could poll well among their devotees, drawing strength away from front-runners. Many special interest groups have flag bearers in the race. Native Americans, marijuana advocates, gay rights supporters, and environmentalists all have candidate choices to represent their unique viewpoints.

Proponents of this method of governance hail it as "truly democratic," in that it allows registered voters to have a direct impact in shaping the laws and policies of the state. Critics say that it subverts the normal workings of representative government and can lead to a "tyranny of the majority." For example, Hispanic Americans in California, now forming approximately 25% of the population, are wary of the recall and proposition process since it has tended to dilute their strength at the polls and threatens programs intended to move many of their members into the economic and political mainstream.

Significant majorities of Hispanics support Governor Davis and are suspicious of conservative grabs at political power. It was the Republican Party of former Governor Pete Wilson that spurred a ballot proposition attempting to end state programs providing education and health care to the children of illegal immigrants. It passed, but was later found to be unconstitutional by the courts. Former Governor Wilson is now Mr. Schwarzenegger’s campaign chairman.

Since 1994, voter initiatives toppled state affirmative action programs and seriously dismantled the state’s extensive bi-lingual educations programs. Schwarzenegger, a supporter of the national English-Only movement, spoke out in favor of the initiative. Proposed "Proposition 54," awaiting passage or rejection by the voters in the October 5th election, would make it illegal for California state and local governments to use any references to race, ethnicity, or national origin in any official document or program. If passed, the phrase "Hispanic American" would disappear as an official term of reference, as would "Asian," "African" and "Native" qualifiers of identity.

So, how do you like the California version of democracy and would you want it for Puerto Rico? Here’s your chance to choose.

Please vote above.

This Week's Question:
Do you like the California version of democracy and would you want it for Puerto Rico?

(US Mainland Residents, please vote on the left; PR Residents on right)

US . Residents
. PR
I approve of it 62%
52% I disapprove of it 38%


.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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