A move is under way to oust California Gov. Gray Davis and hold a special election this summer that, if successful, would change the face of the 2004 electoral map.
The recall of Mr. Davis, a Democrat who was elected in November to a second term as governor of the nation’s largest state, is being spearheaded by People’s Advocacy. The nonprofit group is headed by Sacramento anti-tax activist Ted Costa, who claims credit for 12 successful state ballot initiatives.
“This is more than recalling the governor,” Mr. Costa said. “It’s the people of California saying we are sick and tired of being asked to pay the bills for everything he comes up with. … We are recalling him for gross mismanagement of the state’s finances,” he said.
Mr. Davis’ unpopularity stems from his perceived mismanagement of the state’s energy needs, as well as his move to raise the sales tax and cut popular programs because of a record budget deficit that, over the next 18 months, is estimated to reach between $26 billion and $35 billion.
Mr. Davis won re-election in November with a 48 percent plurality, despite a poorly run campaign by Republican challenger Bill Simon and opposition from powerful Democratic interest groups in the state, including the teachers union.
Now many voters are angry because they feel the governor has deceived them on the budget.
“It became headline news when, a few days after getting re-elected, Davis finally admitted the deficit was bigger than he had admitted going into the election,” said Shawn Steel, the California Republican party chairman, whose term expires later this month.
Mr. Steel said he then began pushing for recall, circulating the idea at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington over the last week and among party officials and lawmakers back home this week.
Recall petitions in California have succeeded against numerous officeholders, including the late Rose Bird. In 1986, angry voters ousted her as chief justice of the state Supreme Court for repeatedly voting to overturn death sentences.
He says his organization, which was co-founded by Paul Gann, “also qualified and passed a term-limits initiative and an initiative to make English the official language of California.”
In an odd twist, Mr. Costa, a Republican, once worked with Mr. Davis to pass a statewide ballot initiative. Proposition 162 was passed in 1992 to stop Republican Gov. Pete Wilson from financing state spending by dipping into the Public Employees Retirement System, which had $160 billion in it at the time.
“We are a nonpartisan effort, even though the governor will say we are a partisan operation,” Mr. Costa said. “But we worked with Davis to go after Wilson, we recalled Paul Harcher, a Republican assemblyman for voting to raise taxes. And if the Republicans in the General Assembly vote now for higher taxes and refuse to balance this budget, we’ll be recalling them too.”
Mr. Costa said that within a few hours of announcing his recall petition on a Sacramento radio station yesterday, People’s Advocacy garnered more than 400 signatures, far more than needed to file a notice of recall with the secretary of state’s office in Sacramento.
Under California’s constitution, a petition to get the recall process started will have to gather about 12 percent of the votes cast in the election for governor, or close to 900,000. Mr. Costa has gathered more than 1 million signatures for previous ballot initiatives.
Once those signatures are certified by the secretary of state, the lieutenant governor is required to schedule a special election within 180 days of the original filing. Mr. Costa estimated a special election could take place in July or August, with no limit on the number of candidates who could be on the ballot.
The candidate emerging with a plurality of votes would be the new governor of California going into the 2004 presidential elections.
California election analysts say a candidate with as little as 2 percent of the votes could win if many candidates qualify for the ballot.
To maximize its chances of winning, each party will likely try to agree on a single well-known candidate, Mr. Costa said. He suggested the Republicans might go with Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, while Democrats could choose their top vote-getter, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.