What California’s recall vote means

Voters in the world’s fifth largest economy have less than a week to decide whether to throw out – or to use the politer official term, recall – the most unpopular California governor in history, Gray Davis.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has been tipped to become governor

An easy decision and a foregone conclusion, you might think. Not so, say the polls.

Davis, a Democrat, is not giving up without a fight – even though his main rival is the muscle-bound Hollywood mega star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, described as a moderate Republican. And, this being California, other candidates include a watermelon-throwing comedian, a porn actress, a bounty hunter, and someone called Michael Jackson.

Moreover, the 7 October vote is itself not entirely straightforward and has even confused many Californians.

What exactly are people voting for?

There are effectively two votes and the ballot paper will have two sections. First, Californians can vote for or against the recall. If a majority of voters oppose the recall, Davis will remain governor.

Governor Gray Davis raises his fist as he fights to save his job
Governor Gray Davis raises his fist as he fights to save his job

Governor Gray Davis raises his
fist as he fights to save his job

But if the majority chooses to remove Davis, the focus then falls on the second part of the ballot. In this section, voters select their preferred candidate to replace Davis. Whoever wins the most votes here becomes the next governor.

Californians can vote against the recall and still name a replacement in case the majority weighs against Davis.

History is on Davis’ side. The governor of North Dakota, recalled in 1921, is the only one to ever be voted out of office in a gubernatorial recall election.

How many candidates are there?

Nearly 250 hopefuls initially signed up last month, but the certification process quickly weeded out more than 100 prospective candidates.

Sadly, 100-year-old Mathilda Spak was one of them, after electoral officials declared she did not have the necessary 65 signatures to qualify for the ballot. But officials still cleared an impressive list of 135 contestants to stand in the election. Most of them are still in it.

Why so many?

Most candidates know they have little hope of winning but many simply want their issues recognised. Indeed, one candidate – a homosexual lawyer called Ronald Palmieri – has declared he won’t even vote for himself. He just wants to highlight the threat to gay rights the election poses if a conservative Republican wins.

Several community activists want to press single issues dear to their hearts, such as workers’ rights, abortion rights and gun control. But only three or four candidates have the remotest chance of winning.

The conservative challenge to the Democrat incumbent started out heavily split. Several serious Republicans were opposed to each other, declaring their fellow right-wingers as too conservative, too liberal, too inexperienced or just plain unelectable. As the election draws near, however, some have dropped out. The rest should increasingly fall behind one or two leading candidates.

Can Davis hold on?

Although the governor is highly unpopular, presiding over severe economic troubles and a deeply indebted state treasury, he might just sneak back in. Many voters, including some non-Democrats, are against the recall election – especially as Davis was only voted in last November.

Gray Davis (R) and his possible successor Cruz Bustamante (L)
Gray Davis (R) and his possible successor Cruz Bustamante (L)

Gray Davis (R) and his possible
successor Cruz Bustamante (L)

And the Democrat field has been a little more disciplined than their main rivals. Most influential Democrats have united behind Davis – though many are clearly uncomfortable about backing someone apparently mounting the steps of the guillotine.

But if, as the polls suggest, Davis is ejected, his deputy will assume the role of Democrat champion. Polls show Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante enjoys more popularity among voters than his boss does, which could keep the governorship in Democrat hands. That represents a kind of compromise that appeals to many Democrats and people who can’t make up their minds. And Bustamente knows it.

What about the Terminator?

Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger enjoys the broadest appeal thanks to his celebrity status and, say the opinion polls, has the best chance. But a more conservative Republican, Senator Tom McClintock, is also in the race for the governorship and taking potential votes away from Arnie.

Arnie has improved his chances by hiring some interesting advisors: notably former US Treasury boss and multimillionaire Warren Buffet plus former Secretary of State Caspar Weinberger. Fellow acting star and convicted cocaine addict Rob Lowe has also touted his support, though the value of Lowe’s contribution is less clear.

Thanks to some revealing moments in his Terminator films, Arnie could thus become the first US governor whom everyone has seen naked … assuming porn actress Mary Carey doesn’t win, of course.

Source: Al Jazeera