Who is Gray Davis?

By Christina Kim, 17, South Pasadena HS
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Illustration by Andrea Domanick, 15, Harvard-Westlake School

Just in case you were living in a cave for the past few weeks, or you were out of the country, or you just plain don’t care, our great state of California will be holding a "special election" on October 7th, called a recall election. Our current governor, Democrat Gray Davis, was elected with a majority of the votes last year. The October recall election will simply allow voters to decide if they still want him in office for another three years, and if not, choose a replacement.

If voters choose to recall Davis, whichever candidate gets the most votes will become governor. Davis needs 50 percent of voters to vote no on the recall to stay in office but an opponent can beat him with a number like 10 percent, leading to the inevitable question of, "Huh?" Simply speaking, the candidate with the largest number of votes wins the race, even if that number is very, very small, making the Democrats very, very worried.

Is this legal, you ask? You bet. To get started, anyone with the money and the time can start a petition to force a recall election. A group of conservative Republicans, including former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian and Congressman Darrell Issa, gathered 1.2 million signatures at a cost of more than $1 million, largely paid for by Issa. Thus, California is now holding its very first gubernatorial recall election.

Bored yet? Before you turn the page, consider this: the governor is the most powerful man in California. He affects important issues: How much will it cost to take a community college or UC class? How much will the minimum wage be? Can you find a job? Think carefully about the kind of person you want running things up there in Sacramento, and then consider if the recall election is something you want to be informed about.

Now, politics is hard. I’ll grant you that. Politics is even—dare I say it—tedious. But as October 7th creeps up on us, you’ll soon realize how interesting the recall election really is.

For instance, why is Gov. Gray Davis being recalled? Republicans say that Gov. Davis made too many mistakes, mistakes that helped put California into a $38 billion dollar budget deficit and an energy crisis. They say he has catered to special interest groups who made large campaign contributions. Supposedly, a new governor will be able to magically solve all our problems—but that’s something for the voters to decide. Democrats claim that the election is the Republicans’ way of evading democracy and ‘stealing’ the governor’s seat. Civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson told the Chicago Sun-Times, "Virtually every state in the union is facing record deficits, a byproduct of the Bush recession … Davis is guilty of no crime, no malfeasance in office, nothing that would warrant impeachment or removal. If anything, he is a victim of circumstance and of George W. Bush."

So how much will this recall election cost? Estimates are that it’ll cost taxpayers about $60-70 million dollars. That money will be spent on printing up ballots, staffing up polling places, counting ballots and other costs.

How is a recall election different from a regular election? One way is that it’s much shorter. Candidates have only eight weeks to campaign. Election officials will only have one-third of the polling places of a regular election because there won’t be enough time to set up more. Democrats have criticized this because it will make it harder for low-income voters, many of whom are minorities, to get to the polls.

Who can run? Unlike a regular election which eliminates candidates through primaries, the recall allows anybody with $3,500 and 65 signatures to run for governor. There are more than 100 candidates in the recall election.

The candidates

So who are some of the "serious" candidates? One of the best known is actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a moderate Republican. He’s the leading Republican candidate, though he has no past political experience.

Greek-born Arianna Huffington is a popular, witty progressive who’s running as an independent for governor.

Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat and prominent Latino, is leading some polls. He is our current lieutenant governor who was once criticized for using a racial slur against blacks in a speech. Bet you didn’t see that coming!

Other serious hopefuls include Green party candidate Peter Camejo, Republican state Senator Tom McClintock, and Republican Peter Ueberroth, a former baseball commissioner.

Who are the "questionable" candidates? Well … there’s 22-year-old porn actress Mary Carey, an independent who supports a "guns for porn" program and breast implant taxes. Then there’s Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt who calls himself the king of porn. He proposes to get rid of the budget deficit by expanding legal gambling. There’s also Gary Coleman, a 35-year-old security guard and former child star of "Diff’rent Strokes." He was entered and paid for by a local newspaper to ridicule the election. As for the rest of the "circus acts," there’s comedian Leo Gallagher, Cigarettes Cheaper owner Ned Roscoe, a Libertarian, and L.A. billboard ad queen Angelyne.

If you’re 18, the registration deadline to vote is Sept. 22.