Gray Davis is a pretty unattractive fellow, even to many Democrats. He has a history of cozy relationships with unsavory campaign contributors, like the prison guards’ union. He has enthusiastically promoted their agenda, building more and more prisons at the expense of social programs which might prevent incarceration. His detractors on the left have ugly anecdotes going back to the days when Jerry Brown was governor, when he served as enforcer for shadowy deals that Jerry didn’t want to have on his public record. He’s a jerk, but face it, he’s our jerk.
Recall signature gatherers are everywhere, even at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, where they have been observed in spirited debate with the people who regularly work the market crowd for reliable Berkeley signatures on certifiably good causes like stopping pollution. One of the regulars articulated the two best arguments against signing the recall petition: (1) An election would cost a fortune, and California hasn’t got the money, and (2) we’d get someone even worse. And that’s the whole story.
As bad as Davis is, most of the potential opponents are even less appealing, and with the cuckoo legal setup for choosing a successor, the worst candidate with the most money, whoever he is, will certainly win. That’s why erstwhile Green candidate Peter Camejo, who got a lot of votes in Berkeley, is making a big mistake identifying himself with the recall campaign. He’s saying that his reasons for opposing Davis are different from those advanced by the organization funded by Darrell Issa, but the message doesn’t get through. Recall advocates blame Davis for California’s fiscal crisis, which is primarily caused by the disastrous economic policies of the Bush administration. They pander to the racist segment of the California electorate which passed initiatives opposing immigration and affirmative action. Camejo’s endorsement of the recall will inevitably taint the Green party with these ideas and tactics. Berkeley Green leaders have been trying to head off Camejo’s suicidal maneuvers, but at press time they still hadn’t talked him out of supporting the recall. Their back-up tactic is to run a Green anti-recall candidate against Camejo in the election, but by that time it will really be too late.
Prominent Democrats have pointedly removed themselves from contention to avoid aiding the Issa campaign. There’s one more thing which would keep disaffected voters on the left from supporting recall. That would be for an attractive Democratic candidate with better values than Davis to announce, now, the intention of running for governor in the next regular election. The Bay Area could offer Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who is smart, liberal and an effective campaigner. Or how about the many able termed-out former legislators who know their way around Sacramento? Berkeley’s own Dion Aroner, who worked in the Assembly for close to 30 years both as an aide and as a representative, would make an excellent candidate for governor, and if she started now she would be able to build a good base before the 2006 election. A vigorous anti-Davis candidacy would attract better candidates to Democratic legislative primaries for all offices in the interim.
The new Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, which attracted a standing room only crowd to its recent Berkeley meeting, has an anyone-but-Bush agenda for the next national election. It should also take as part of its mission finding better Democrats for California races, so that we won’t continue to be stuck with embarrassments like Davis in the future.
Becky O’Malley is executive editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet.