The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events
September 18, 2003
Is a Recall Delayed a
As you now know, a three-judge panel on the
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has delayed California's recall election
until March. The judges, all appointed by Democratic presidents, cited the
punch ballots still used in some California counties, saying they were too
unreliable and those voters forced to use them were at a greater risk of
being disenfranchised. Referring to Bush v Gore, the judges said this
amounted to discrimination.
The question, then, is this. Does this
ruling, if it stands (which seems unlikely), help or hurt Democratic
governor Gray Davis and his Republican foes?
Constant readers know I have not yet
addressed the California recall issue. That's because, up to now, I
haven't considered it any of my business. I don't live in California. If
the people there want to toss out their governor less than a year after
electing him to another term, that's their business. A recall is
constitutionally sanctioned and, from all appearances, recall proponents
have faithfully followed the law.
But when a federal court gets involved,
then it becomes the country's business. Especially when that same federal
court declares, in essence, that California's constitution violates the
U.S. Constitution. Such a drastic ruling requires the strictest scrutiny
and highest judicial standards, and it's unclear the Ninth Circuit
appreciated that. It essentially said that the six or so counties still
using punch card ballots discriminated against voters, because of the
card's error rate.
The problem is that all voting systems have
errors - we have yet to devise the perfect, error-free voting system. And
this same system was good enough to re-elect Davis last year, and now it's
not good enough to oust him? This is what they call in the legal schools a
Naturally, Democrats applauded this
unwarranted judicial intrusion into a lawful and democratic process, as
they did when the New Jersey Supreme Court
imposed a senatorial candidate that no one had voted for. Democrats
only complain when rulings don't go their way, like Bush v Gore. In
that case, the court was forced to stop the Florida Supreme Court from
re-writing its state's election laws, a job properly left to the state
legislature. Democrats love it when courts flout the law because that's
the only way they can advance their cause, and hate it when courts enforce
the law, because then they lose.
The Ninth Circuit cited Bush v Gore
as a precedent. But Bush v Gore did not declare the voting system constitutional,
it declared the Florida Supreme Court's methods of counting votes unconstitutional.
This should be a distinction that a high-ranking federal judge
Democrats touted the ruling because they
think it will help Gray Davis. Fevers are high and passion is out of
control, goes the theory. With the recall now pushed to March, tempers
will inevitably cool and the good folks of California will realize what a
swell guy is Davis, and he'll handily beat back the recall effort.
I'm not convinced. This ruling gives Gray
Davis six more months to do what he does best - govern badly. This forces
Californians to endure an incompetent and seamy governor - odds are more
will hate him in March than do now. Rather than diminish, tempers will
likely simmer until they explode in a raging boil in March. Also, the
longer a Democrat resides in the governor's mansion in Sacramento, the
closer the party is associated with him, and that can't be good for Cruz
So this must help Republicans. Yes, but
only state senator Tom McClintock. It does not help Arnold Schwarzenegger.
To this point, Arnold has offered voters
little more than pleasant platitudes. He'll "clean house in
Sacramento." Take care of the special interests. Provide everything
for the people. Give the government back to the people. Spend lots and
lots of money. Bring businesses back so they can pay high taxes. If Arnold
were a Democrat, Republicans would be dismissing as just another
Yet Arnold has one advantage: he is
a celebrity. All of California, America, and pretty much the whole world
knows who he is. Oh, and he's not Gray Davis.
Several Republicans and more than a few
conservatives support Arnold, only because they think he can win. They
love Tom McClintock, who just happens to be sincere, intelligent,
articulate, and conservative. But they don't think he can beat Davis or
Bustamante. So they want him to drop out of the race so his voters will
vote for Arnold.
The Ninth Circuit's ruling changes this
equation. Arnold will be hard pressed to offer nothing of substance for
six more months - pretty soon, he has to give voters some concrete
proposals, some other reason to vote for him rather than against Davis.
Then he has to sell those proposals. Can he do it? Time will tell, but I'm
This extra time gives McClintock
opportunity to close the gap between him, Arnold, and Bustamante. He has
nothing to lose here - no lead and no grand expectations. He can keep
plugging away, offering substance and ideas, giving Californians a reason
to vote for him and against Davis and Bustamante and Arnold.
So this delay isn't all that bad for
Republicans, and it's not all that good for Democrats or Arnold. Who knows
- maybe more Republicans will now realize that Arnold really isn't one of
them, and that electing a liberal Republican who will govern like a
Democrat is no victory.