Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
When I heard that the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is trying to recall Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, I thought, "That doesn't stand a chance." Then I remembered my first reaction five years ago, when talk began that Gov. Gray Davis might be recalled: "That doesn't stand a chance."
The Contra Costa Times has an article that effectively explains why a recall of Schwarzenegger is unlikely, but not impossible:
SACRAMENTO -- Most of the essentials are in place for a recall campaign against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: a sagging economy, a historically late budget, a massive deficit, high voter dissatisfaction, a brewing revolt from within the governor's party, and a sponsor that has enough money to put the question on the ballot.
But, even with all that, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association is facing a Sisyphean task in the campaign it has embarked on to oust Schwarzenegger from office.
The political landscape is missing the one big factor for a recall to be successful, said Garry South, a Democratic consultant and former aide to onetime Gov. Gray Davis, who was recalled in 2003: a tangible event that has a direct impact on peoples' lives, such as the energy crisis during Davis' tenure. Without that, he said, the public's hostility toward Schwarzenegger doesn't go as deep as it went with Davis.
I think that South is on to something. The people of California now have a negative view of Schwarzenegger, but they have a far more negative view of the state legislature. He's unpopular because of the economic downturn and the budget mess. Those sorts of generic concerns may not be enough to create the visceral, "He has to go right now!" reaction that would fuel a recall.
Another factor that's missing is a clear alternative to the governor. California voters recalled Davis, knowing that they liked the idea of Schwarzenegger becoming governor. While there are plenty of possible candidates for governor in 2010, there isn't an obvious person to play that role.
If Dianne Feinstein announced she would run, I'd give the recall a much better chance of getting on the ballot and a much better chance of winning approval from voters. Maybe Martin Sheen could be the candidate? I'm kidding, I think.
However, the same article gets at something very interesting. Despite their financial backing, it's not the prison guards union that will determine the fate of the recall (their motives are in question because they want a new contract). It's not even Democrats who will play the crucial role. It's Republicans:
The California Republican Assembly, which calls itself the "conscience of the Republican Party," is likely to bring up the topic of the recall this month at its next board meeting, at the state GOP convention in Anaheim, and its leader said he wouldn't be surprised if they voted to support the move to oust the governor from office.
The extent of the antipathy toward Schwarzenegger from California Republicans is hard to overstate. Who says that the relationship is strained? Well, Schwarzenegger for one, as the Los Angeles Times notes:
Schwarzenegger told Der Spiegel on Friday that leaders of his California Republican Party were "just so out there," politically, that "I have almost no contact with them. None."
While both sides downplayed those remarks, the truth is that few Republicans are thrilled with a governor who supported tax increases, opposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage and who has focused heavily on global warming. Belatedly, California Republicans will have to decide whether the trade-off they made in supporting Schwarzenegger -- ideological purity for electoral success -- is worth it. Schwarzenegger isn't doing much to rebuild the party for the long term, that's for sure.
In the end, though, I still don't think the recall will happen. Davis was kicked out in the first year of a four-year term. By the time a recall could get on the ballot, Schwarzenegger will be in the third year of his term. He's term-limited in 2010 anyway. Californians probably won't see much point in replacing a lame duck.
But, Schwarzenegger's soon-to-be-lame-duck status raises another big question: Is there any way the Governator can build himself a positive legacy?
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