- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis has no advertising budget, no major endorsements, only tepid Republican Party support and staunch Democratic Party opposition — and that’s what scares its opponents.

Despite its paltry resources and pitiful pedigree, the recall campaign’s popularity with the public continues to surge, leading analysts to draw comparisons to another populist upheaval: Proposition 13, a successful move to drastically reduce property taxes.

Twenty-five years after California voters launched the tax revolt that shook the nation, they’re once again mad and ready to upend the political establishment. In 1978, it was high taxes; today, it’s the Democratic governor, on whose watch the state budget deficit has spiraled to $38 billion.

“You see this happen on a cyclical basis: Every once in a while, voters get fed up and political parties try to calm them down. But California is overdue for a populist political uprising,” said Dan Schnur, Republican political strategist and former aide to Gov. Pete Wilson. “As voters become more disgusted with the process, they look for other outlets.”

Democrats argue that any similarities between Proposition 13 and the recall effort exist solely in the minds of Davis opponents. But for the political ambitions of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who rescued the recall from oblivion with a cash infusion in May, there would be no uprising, they say.

“That’s hogwash. This is not like Proposition 13 — this is not a grass-roots revolution,” said Nick Velazquez, spokesman for Taxpayers Against the Recall, a newly formed antirecall group funded by the public-employee and teachers unions, and environmental groups.

“When it was at the grass-roots level, they were going nowhere,” he said. “Then Darrell Issa came in and poured $1.1 million, and that’s how you get signatures — you hire signature gatherers.”

Even its foes, however, acknowledge the recall campaign has succeeded beyond virtually anyone’s expectations.

“Dump Davis” bumper stickers are starting to festoon cars statewide. Organizers plan to stop gathering signatures today, weeks ahead of schedule, after a holiday weekend push that was expected to bring them to their goal of 1.3 million.

That’s more than the 900,000, or 12 percent of the 2002 voting electorate, required to call a special election on the issue in November. With nothing else on the statewide ballot, supporters figure that such an election would draw mainly hard-core Davis opponents, improving their chances for victory.

A Los Angeles Times poll released Friday found that 51 percent of those surveyed would vote to unseat Mr. Davis, while 42 percent would reject the recall. At the same time, his approval rating continued to hover in the low 20s, with 22 percent saying they approved of his job performance and 69 percent disapproving.

Recall organizers estimate that about 30 percent of their signatures come from registered Democrats and other non-Republicans.

“We’ve gotten more signatures every week — we haven’t slowed down at all. The momentum is all on our side,” said Dave Gilliard, director of Rescue California, the largest of three recall committees. “You put up a sign saying ‘Recall Gray Davis’ in front of a Home Depot, and you draw a crowd.”

At Rescue California headquarters here on a recent weekday, a dozen volunteers busily opened and copied stacks of thick envelopes containing new petitions. Mingled with the petitions were personal checks — the group has raised more than $500,000 from individual donations averaging $29, Mr. Gilliard said.

“It’s been entirely grass roots in terms of support,” Mr. Issa said. “It’s a revolution, but it’s different from Proposition 13 because 13 didn’t have a villain. This has several villains, starting with Gray Davis and the [Democratic] legislature.”

After dismissing the recall for months as the laughable product of fringe movements, Democrats have since gone into full battle mode. Mindful of the voters’ budget worries, they argue that a special election would cost the cash-strapped state as much as $30 million.

“[I]f there is a special election this fall, it will have to come out of the same general fund that pays for police officers, education and health care,” said Mr. Davis in an interview yesterday on CNN. “And I think when people find that out, they’ll be hopping mad, and be mad at the proponents of this recall who are forcing them to spend $30 million for a special election.”

Taxpayers Against the Recall has circulated its own petition, gathering 1 million signatures in favor of retaining the governor.

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