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RECALL BACKERS COULD LEARN LESSON FROM SECESSION.

Byline: Harrison Sheppard Staff Writer

For San Fernando Valley activists, the recall effort against Gov. Gray Davis is deja vu all over again.

There are striking parallels between the recall drive and last year's effort to have the Valley secede from Los Angeles. One local pol even dubbed the current drive ``gubernatorial secession.''

The Valley cityhood drive lost overall in November 2002 but won a slight majority in the Valley itself. With few recognizable candidates, the effort struggled for funding and credibility and ultimately was crushed by an unusually broad coalition of the city's ruling forces led by Mayor James Hahn.

With that in mind, some political experts said the cityhood drive offers lessons to both sides of the recall effort - particularly lessons in what not to do.

``One of the things that secession did not do successfully was reach out beyond its borders to make its case, particularly to the people on the other side of the hill,'' said Joel Fox, a consultant for the secession drive and former president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

``That means proponents of the recall have to reach beyond their natural allies - Republicans, fiscal conservatives and people displeased with the governor's performance - and make the case to particularly Democrats that the state would be better off if there's a change.''

There are many similarities between the two efforts, factors that are rarely found in other types of elections and political movements. Consider:

--Both are only-in-California attempts to explode the existing political structure, seeking radical change that the normal electoral and legislative processes couldn't provide to frustrated citizens. Both faced strong opposition from well-entrenched political elites.

--Both involve unusual elections with a winner-take-all formula and no primary, in which the eventual office holder could hypothetically win with only 20 or 30 percent of the total vote. At the same time, in each case the winner won't have an office to hold if the first question on the ballot - secede from Los Angeles, recall the governor - fails.

--Both were fought over significant stakes. Secession involved the state's most populous city; the recall involves the country's most populous state.

--And, finally, neither has any real precedent in this state, and therefore each is subject to confusion about the process, leading to lawsuits and predictions that it would not reach the ballot.

Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and a Davis administration official now on leave to help fight the recall, said the strategies to fight the recall will be similar to that which defeated secession: Democrats will unite with moderate business interests to portray it as bad for the state overall, especially with this economy and business environment, and a backward step driven by conservative Republicans.

``You have these events, like a recall, like secession, that are in fact very destabilizing, they're destabilizing to the business environment, to the economy, to the flow at which the people's business gets done,'' Bauman said.

``And I think that at the end of the day people make judgments about what is the best way to keep everybody moving forward.''

Both efforts trace their roots to the Proposition 13 drive in the late 1970s, a watershed event that forever changed the nature of California politics and government.

The political establishment widely dismissed anti-tax crusader Howard Jarvis as a crank - until frustration with the economy and rising taxes provided him with the voter anger upon which he built his movement.

Jonathan Wilcox, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, a gubernatorial candidate who has provided the most funding for the recall effort, sees this as a similar moment in state history.

``Prop. 13 was ignited by citizen frustration, which led to their involvement in profound direct democracy. ... At a certain point, the voters put their faith and trust in their representatives, and when they did not serve them and when they harm them, Californians have a right to take action.''

Republican consultant Dan Schnur, who is not involved in the recall, agrees with the parallels to Prop. 13 - particularly in how scared the political structure is.

``Not only do you see the same level of voter resentment that fueled Proposition 13, but you can also see the same level of anxiety on the part of the political establishment,'' Schnur said.

``The people who run politics like to run politics. And when the voters rise up, whether through a ballot initiative or a referendum or a recall, that's very threatening and very frightening to them. It scared them with Prop. 13 a quarter of a century ago, and it has them scared in precisely the same way again today.''

Los Angeles Councilman Jack Weiss, who was against secession and the recall, termed the recent effort ``gubernatorial secession.'' He sees similar reasons to oppose both - the financial costs, and has sponsored a motion to put the City Council on record against recall.

Joel Fox, who supports the recall, thinks the reason such radical political efforts start in California has to do with the state's mix of cultures.

``Maybe it has to do with the psyche and the culture of California,'' he said. ``People come here from all over the world. They're restless folks. We're all restless folks who want to make things better and we want to take action to do so. Maybe that seeps into the politics.''

Harrison Sheppard, (213) 978-0390

harrison.sheppard(at)dailynews.com

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CALIFORNIA'S RECALL PROCESS

SOURCE: California Secretary of State's Office; Daily News research

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jul 21, 2003
Words:919
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