Ten Years On: The Aftermath of the Recall

Election Exacerbated Issues in the Capitol

by Brian Leubitz

In 2002, California reelected Gray Davis to a second term. His future was looking bright, and was considered a possible candidate for president in 2004. But, that all changed very quickly in 2003 as the Enron-manufactured electricity crisis combined with a few budget issues to create havoc in Sacramento.  Soon after the second inauguration, a recall petition gathered steam and then took off when (the farce that is) Darrell Issa dumped a bunch of money into the recall efforts.  

Issa was hoping for the spot himself, but he eventually gave way well before the election. The election itself was a mess and made the state the butt of jokes around the world. The list of candidates included a pornography star, a former MLB Commissioner, Gary Coleman, Arianna Huffington, and a slew of randoms that would never typically make the general  election ballot.

And of course one of those randoms that would never make the general election ballot was the man who became our governor for seven years. Arnold Schwarzenegger, though something of a celebrity Republican, would have severe difficulties getting through a Republican primary in California. While we have a progressive tilt overall, the GOP is just as crazy as any other state.

The immediate impact was clearly in the wrong direction for California, and brought us a slew of reactionary policies.  However, the Governator eventually realized that even he had limits with his beating at the 2005 special election.  At that point, it was easy to think that Arnold was a blip, and that perhaps the net result could be a more progressive governor in 2006. Alas, Phil Angelides was not that governor, nor even that candidate. Schwarzenegger won, but left himself in an increasingly difficult situation with his rhetoric, killing the chance to make any big substantive reform:

Although Schwarzenegger won reelection in 2006, by then the chance was probably gone. Indeed, it may have been gone from the first day, when he canceled the vehicle license fee increase Davis had approved, and thus enlarged the state’s gaping budget deficit by $6 billion by the time he left office.

And in talking like anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist about “starving the monster” of government, and about how spending alone, not revenue, was the problem, he backed himself even further into a political corner. Neither could be solved without addressing the other. As for the rest of his governorship, it was mostly showmanship and glitz.(Peter Schrag @LAT)

Schrag points to the non-partian reforms (redistricting, top-2, etc) and Gov. Jerry Brown’s election in 2010 with his “restrained approach” as the reason for our bounceback from the crisis. And perhaps that is true, but that debate will linger on to let history decide. But what is clearly true is that the 2003 recall was nothing but a temporary blip that brought us the Governator, but left us with very little real reform.

One thought on “Ten Years On: The Aftermath of the Recall”

  1. A minor correction– California’s Republican Party is actually one of the most, if not the most, conservative state GOP in the nation. Check out this graph from political scientist Boris Shor: http://research.bshor.com/2013

    Despite our reputation as a solid-blue state, the CA GOP is actually crazier than the national average.

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