Schwarzenegger to Veto Budget; Democrats Hesitate on Recall

by Paul Hogarth on September 17, 2008

Despite his low approval ratings, a recent poll found that most Californians would not recall Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger—leading some Democrats to conclude that it’s a “boneheaded idea.” They compare it with an April 2003 poll—conducted six months before Gray Davis was recalled—where a slight plurality favored recalling the Governor. But that 2003 poll also showed 59% of respondents admitting that a Davis recall would be “bad for California,” and at the time even top Republicans cautioned against the idea. If the current budget fight in Sacramento has proven one thing, it is that Republicans will stop at absolutely nothing—allowing a vicious minority of right-wing ideologues to hold our state hostage. Schwarzenegger’s planned veto of the state budget hasn’t solved anything—and will make a terrible situation worse. The only thing left to do (besides repealing the two-thirds budget rule) is to support the recall—ratcheting up the debate, and forcing Arnold to actually do his job.

For Democrats who worry about a Schwarzenegger recall failing, consider what state GOP Chairman said in February 2003 about a possible Gray Davis recall. “I believe this Governor is worthy of being recalled,” he said at the state party convention. “But I’m not in a position yet to say whether a coalition exists to make it worth the time and effort.” Other leaders warned that it would be a distraction—as they advised their members that it would be better to focus on the presidential race in 2004.

Now Democrats and other progressives are faced with the same dilemma—as the prison guards union have taken steps to initiate a recall of Governor Schwarzenegger. It’s tempting to just look at the initial poll numbers, and conclude that it’s a mission destined to fail. No serious Democratic leader has gotten behind the recall, as the legislators try to negotiate a vile and untenable budget in Sacramento—while the state shuts down health care facilities due to lack of funds.

But Republicans never hesitate to take on something the public opposes, and they have yet to suffer any consequences for refusing to pass a budget that has any tax increase in any way, shape or form—the consequences be damned. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass deserves credit for not yielding to their political blackmail—creating the longest budget standoff in state history. But there didn’t seem to be a clear end-game strategy as long as the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to pass the budget, the Governor failed to exercise leadership, and the Grover Norquist Republicans refused to take responsibility.

With the state running out of money, and with real consequences happening to poor people, the Democrats blinked. The legislature passed an atrocious budget that has $3 billion in cuts to public schools, $1.4 billion in cuts to health and human services—and in a stunning display of fiscal irresponsibility, borrows $15 billion from next year’s revenues. Schwarzenegger announced yesterday he will veto the budget—putting everything back to square one.

Voters are currently not inclined to support the recall, but Arnold’s lack of leadership has dangerously put him in a position of asking to be thrown out. It takes a two-thirds vote to override the Governor’s veto, which the legislature will probably easy surpass as there was near unanimity in the (severely compromised) state budget that passed. If this happens, the Governor will have proven to be practically irrelevant in running the state.

Supporting a recall effort would be a risky move, but what exactly do Democrats have to lose by supporting it? Even if he prevails in a special election in March, Schwarzenegger will not be in office past 2010—making him a lame duck Governor who might have to do his job. Because it’s inconceivable that it can get worse than how things are now …

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