More Re: Recall

by Steven F. Hayward

Nick Shultz and John Miller are quite right to say that the Davis recall is not grounded on any particularly conservative principle. Quite the opposite: The recall, and the California initiative process generally, are outgrowths of the Progressive Era in California, and are intended to make government more “populist” or “democratic.” The irony of course is that the initiative proces has mostly served conservative policy goals over the last generation in California, starting with Prop 13 and running through Prop 209 (ending racial preferences), term limits (though this is a dubious idea at best), a state version of the Defense of Marriage Act, etc. But conservatives’ fondness for these Progressive devices in California have caused them to abandon or forget deeper principles about how republican government ought to operate.

My own views on this are quite mixed: No one so richly deserves the boot more than Davis. I have an old friend from high school who was, and remains, very liberal (he even lives in Marin County) and is now quite senior with one of the electric utilities (which have always been corporate socialist entities in California, which is why my old friend fits in just fine). He was in the room with Davis on many occasions during the peak of the electricity crisis, and was appalled and astounded at how weak, indecisive, and irresponsible Davis is. It was almost enough to make a Republican out of him.

If successful, the recall is likely to lead to the de facto transformation of California into something like a parliamentary democracy. In the future, whenever a governor’s popularity swoons (Pete Wilson’s polls were very bad in 1992 and 1993), the liberal special interest groups are likely to try the recall route themselves; they have more money and organization than the right in California. Having done it once, Californians might get used to doing it over and over again–a populist/Progressive form of a “no-confidence” vote, and the elevation of a new prime minister. In a state that is likely to remain dominated by Democrats, the recall may come back to haunt Republicans for years to come.