::: COMMUNITY NEWS
Political columnist gives RM a taste of history as it's happening
See what your neighbors think about this subject in Community Views
Updated Friday, July 25, 2003 | First published Thursday, July 24, 2003
You could say that Wednesday's Rancho Murieta Women's Club luncheon program was ripped from the headlines of the Sacramento Bee. The morning paper announced that the historic election to recall the governor would take place and, only hours later, the Bee's veteran political columnist, Dan Walters, provided an audience of 150 Murietans with insights into the recall process as well as the character of California's embattled governor.
Walters quickly won over the group by saying it was his first time "inside the gates" of Rancho Murieta. "They do let you out, don't they?" he asked.
After saying the recall election was imminent, Walters described some of the quirks in the law regarding recall.
Typically, Walters said, the lieutenant governor "waits around for the governor to die or resign. … That's all he has to do." But the present lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante, has an additional responsibility that could make him California's next governor. He has to call the election for the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.
Walters said Bustamante's decision not to place the election of a successor on the same ballot means the lieutenant governor could succeed the governor if he's recalled, "giving the shaft" to the governor, present contenders for the office and future rivals. "Not too shabby for a politician who's not known to be the brightest bulb on the tree," said Walters.
(Thursday, Bustamante called the special election for Oct. 7 and included a succession election. He denied he had ever proposed another plan.)
Bustamante said it's up to the state Supreme Court to decide who is Davis' successor if he's recalled.
In the event of a vote for a successor to Davis, the list of candidates could be a long one. Democrats are not saying they wouldn't run -- they're saying, "I don't intend to run," Walters noted. "If one of them runs, can the others not run?"
The ballot would consist only of names, not party affiliations.
Another quirk in the law, Walters said, means that voters would have to vote in the recall election before they could vote for a successor. And the winner would be the candidate with the largest number of votes, no matter how small the voter turnout.
Walters said the state's about to enter uncharted political territory. "Stay tuned," he added. "It's going to get real interesting."
He pointed out that the plot of potential Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" movie could be prescient: Schwarzenegger saves the world from being run by an emotionless robot.
Walters, who has known Gray Davis for many years, said the governor needs only "to look in the mirror for the source of his problems."
By his handling of the energy crisis, "(Davis) shot himself in the head. It felt so good he did it again" with the budget crisis. Doing the "short-term expedient thing … is almost a fatal flaw in his case."
Walters portrayed the governor as "consumed with his own career … obsessed with his health" and so incapable of change he has the same thing -- broccoli and turkey -- for lunch every day. "He has not evolved. … He has not a scintilla of interest in anything other than his career."
While the governor's popularity plummeted because of his handling of the energy crisis -- "he did the right thing six months late" -- it's the $35 billion shortfall in the state budget that caused the present crisis. "Were there no budget crisis, there would be no recall," Walters said.
And if Davis had followed his own advice, there would be no budget crisis. Walters said Davis recognized the $12 billion windfall the state received for what it was when investors checked out of the stock market and paid capital gains taxes in 2000.
In announcing the windfall, Davis said he would resist all efforts to spend the money on ongoing programs, Walters said.
Instead, within two months, two-thirds of the money went into baseline spending. "It was a mistake," Walters said.
Walters compared the state's situation to inheriting a large sum of money. Instead of recognizing it as a windfall, "you pretend you were going to have a rich uncle die every year."
When revenues went back to normal, spending didn't. Instead, assets and revenues were overstated and expenses were understated. Walters characterized it as "exactly what Enron did. … It's not the economy, it's stupid accounting." The governor and Legislature had "their heads in the sand."
Politics has become "a segregated activity … a highly manipulative game played by a few people," Walters said in answer to a question from the audience. "There is no accountability to the larger public. … The Legislature is locked in. … The only person you can take your wrath out on is the governor. … We allowed this to happen."
The audience responded with enthusiasm to Walters. "He was excellent," said Genie Leighton, who attended with her husband, Dave. Several suggested that Walters should be the next governor.
another opportunity to hear Walters later in the day. He appeared
on "Nightline" Wednesday night and made some of the same
observations about the recall to a national audience.