August 8, 2003

California’s Recall Election: Good For The Greens?

By Marcelo Rodriguez
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

California’s embattled Gov. Gray Davis has characterized an attempted gubernatorial recall as a “Republican coup,” but the actual outcome of the October 7 election could be a coup of a totally different sort: a victory for those who reject both political parties.

Conservative groups backing the recall are giddy over the prospect of a Republican occupying the Capitol. With the Democrats rallying behind Davis by refusing to field a strong candidate should the recall pass, many Republicans think the governorship is theirs for the taking.

But an unusual “bloc” — between a likeable Green Party candidate and a witty political independent with an anti-establishment bent — could cut the conservative celebration short.

Peter Camejo, the Green Party candidate, received more than 5 percent of the vote when Davis was re-elected last November. Polls show Camejo receiving up to 10 percent of the October vote.

Arianna Huffington, a Greek-born writer and television commentator who transformed herself from a conservative Republican to progressive populist in the past few years, says she may join the race.

Camejo has promised to throw his support to Huffington if it appears she has a shot at winning. And because a crowded field means that the winner could be chosen with a small percentage of the total vote, Camejo believes a huge upset is within reach.

“It is very possible that one of us throwing our support to the other would generate additional support and defeat the Republicans,” said Camejo. “There’s a high probability that I would be the one urging my supporters to vote for her.”

Huffington was once married to Republican Michael Huffington, who spent nearly $30 million in 1994 in losing to Senator Dianne Feinstein and has said he may run in the recall election. If her ex-husband runs or a prominent Democrat like Feinstein enters the race, Huffington says she’ll stay out. Feinstein has said she will not run.

Both Huffington and Camejo support a recall of Davis, and call the Democratic strategy of falling in line behind the governor “irresponsible.”

“Rolling the dice and letting the Republicans do to California what they have done to the nation is not a risk this state can afford to take,” says Huffington.

While the Democrats strategy may be a “political suicide pact,” as some have called it, the state’s Republican Party has been on a slow suicide mission itself. Political infighting and disorganization has moved California’s GOP apparatus to the far right even as the state’s electorate has become increasingly liberal.

Today, the Republicans do not hold a single statewide office in California, and many believe their only remedy is to recall the unpopular Davis. But only 35 percent of the state’s voters are registered Republicans, and they may split their vote among a number of candidates.

Conservatives have bankrolled the recall effort, but Davis’ political future may lie in winning back traditional Democrats. A recent poll shows he’s got much work to do: 30 percent of Democrats support the recall, as do 18 percent of those who identify themselves as liberal and 49 percent of Latinos, a constituency usually solidly behind Democrats.

Wary of his deteriorating base, Davis has turned sharply left. The centrist governor now uses the term “progressive” to describe his views and, in an effort to woo Latinos, he has backtracked on previous opposition to a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to receive a driver’s license.

Whether Davis can shore up his shaky support among Democrats and Latinos remains to be seen. However, whether these voters back or oppose the recall, they will also vote for a potential replacement. Unlikely to vote Republican, many of these could end up with Camejo or Huffington.

Mike Feinstein, a former Green Party mayor of Santa Monica, Calif., believes that half or more of the Democrats who turn out to vote will cast their ballot for either Camejo or Huffington. If the Republicans split their votes and no prominent Democrat runs, Feinstein thinks the numbers are there for an upset.

“I personally do not support the recall,” Feinstein says. “But as incredible as it may be, we may have a real shot at getting a progressive elected governor. We could win with 15 or 20 percent of the vote.”

Win or not, the Greens view the recall election as a “can’t-lose” proposition.

Ross Mirkarimi, a Green Party strategist in San Francisco, says that even a “good showing” by the united front could have a long-term positive effect by shaking up the Democratic Party, forcing them to build bridges with the Greens.

“The Democrats have been spiraling into a milquetoast party where they are no longer even the loyal opposition,” says Mirkarimi. “They are troubled and acting like amateurs by taking their aggressions out on the Green Party, trying to extinguish us, when they should be seeking to build alliances with us.”

Marcelo Rodriguez (marcelo@ rf.com) is an associate of Pacific News Service.

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