Monday, July 7, 2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California’s Republicans are trying to get Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, to join a club so exclusive that it has only one member: Lynn J. Frazier, governor of North Dakota during World War I.

Frazier served from 1917 to 1921, when he became the first — and for now, the only — governor recalled from office.

He was ousted as the economy faltered and his Nonpartisan League party’s socialist policies fell into disfavor. The voters were exercising a power they had attained just a year earlier.

“It was a symptom of the whole time of discontent because we were going into a time of lower agriculture prices, the wheat market plummeted, then we had a lot of banks that were starting to fail,” said Marilyn Snyder, curator of education at the State Historical Society of North Dakota. “You’ve got a perfect parallel going on there.”

A millionaire congressman, Republican Darrell Issa, is financing a recall campaign against Mr. Davis, who is vulnerable because of voter wrath over the state’s energy crisis and a budget deficit estimated at $38 billion. Mr. Davis’ approval rating is down to 21 percent, the lowest on record for a California governor.

He could fall victim to a process that has been used largely against city council or school board members.

If the Davis recall succeeds, California once again could set an example — for better or worse — for the rest of the country. In 1978, the state’s Proposition 13 set off tax revolts across America.

“Most people had never even heard of recall prior to what’s going on with Gray Davis out there, and that was similar to the initiative process prior to 1978. A lot of people had not heard of it, did not know how it could be utilized,” said M. Dane Waters, president and co-chairman of the Initiative and Referendum Institute in Leesburg, Va.

“If this recall effort is successful, there’s no question there will be more interest in the recall mechanism.”

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat and a presidential candidate, barely beat back a recall attempt as mayor of Cleveland in 1979. Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham was impeached and removed by the Legislature in 1988 for obstruction and misuse of state funds, averting a recall election.

A recall aimed at Jesse Ventura when he was Minnesota governor in 1999 was stopped when a judge ruled that the reasons for it were inadequate.

California’s recall measure was passed under Gov. Hiram Johnson, a Republican, in 1911. It was part of a wave of Progressive Era legislation enacted nationwide in response to political and corporate corruption.

No provision for voter recall of federal officials exists.

Seventeen other states also have provisions for recalling state officials, but California is one of those in which recalls can be pulled off most easily, the National Conference of State Legislatures says.

To get a recall on the ballot, most states require signatures from at least 25 percent of the number of voters in the previous election. California requires 12 percent.

The Davis recall campaign, which hopes to put the measure on the ballot this fall, needs 897,158 signatures by Sept. 2. The state has recorded about half that number so far.

Of 117 attempts at a statewide recall in California, seven have made it to the ballot, the Secretary of State’s Office said. All seven involved state lawmakers, and four of those attempts succeeded. All 31 past attempts to recall a governor failed to make the ballot.

If the Davis recall makes it onto the ballot, voters will be asked two questions: whether to remove the governor, and which candidate on the ballot they want instead. The only declared major-party candidate so far is Mr. Issa.

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