California Recall Unlikely to Be Repeated Elsewhere
By Jason White, Assistant Staff Writer
The recall of California Gov. Gray Davis (D) has energized political activists trying to oust elected officials in other states, but experts say successful recalls are likely to remain rare.
Davis was ousted Tuesday in an historic election amid widespread voter anger over job losses, tax increases and his handling of the state's energy crisis. Davis will be succeeded by former bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), who won 49 percent of the vote in a field of 135 candidates.
"We're very pleased that the citizens of the state of California ... decided that they were finally going to take back their government. This is only going to reinforce our efforts here," said Susan Janowski, an anti-tax activist hoping to unseat Wisconsin state Sen. Jeff Plale (D).
Janowski is angry with Plale for supporting Gov. Jim Doyle's (D) veto of a property tax freeze earlier this year. Her organization, Recall Plale, has registered with the Secretary of State's office and plans to begin gathering signatures early next year.
"What these folks (behind the recall) are looking for is a do-over. They weren't happy with the results of the first election, so they want a do-over." Plale told Stateline.org.
Political experts said Janowski is not alone in drawing inspiration from what happened with the Davis recall similar campaigns are underway or being talked about in Nevada and Minnesota. But the experts noted that the 17 other states that allow recalls have far more stringent requirements than California.
"In most states, it's much more difficult to recall a state level official or legislator than it is in California. Signature thresholds are much higher and the time period to gather those signatures is much narrower," said Jennie Bowser, a policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Thad Beyle, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, said the recall is a wake-up call for politicians at the state and federal level.
"It shows that the economy and the impact of the decline in jobs in so many states is taking a political toll now. This could very well be a wake-up call for the presidential race in 2004," Beyle said.
Dane Waters, executive director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute in Washington, D.C., said the publicity surrounding Schwarzenegger's ascension to the California governor's office has greatly increased recall activity at the grassroots level.
"I get at least ten calls a week. I get calls from political operatives of both parties, activists of all political persuasions, and elected officials of state government who are concerned about recall efforts," he said.
But Waters said he doesn't expect to see much action until the 2004 election cycle.
"Taking on a recall effort now and through the holidays is just not very practical. Recall efforts are difficult," he said.
Davis is only the second governor in American history to be recalled, joining North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier (R) in having the dubious distinction. Frazier was recalled in 1921 amid charges that he and officials in a state agency called the Industrial League abused their power and misused state funds.
A conservative Nevada group is trying to add Gov. Kenny Guinn's (R) name to the list, but they are struggling to meet the state's high signature threshold. The group has gathered just 12,000 of the required 128,000 signatures, said Christopher Hansen, vice chairman of the Recall Guinn Committee.
Hansen blamed the slow-going on government obstruction and said he plans to ask for an extension of the 90-day signature-gathering period, which is scheduled to close Nov. 25. Nevada recall campaigns must gather signatures from 25 percent of the people who voted in the last election. In California, the threshold is 12 percent in 160 days.
Recall rumblings are also being heard in Minnesota, where the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) is threatening to undertake a campaign against Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R). But the Minnesota Secretary of State's office reports that no formal recall papers have been filed.
NCSL's Bowser predicted that threatened recalls, rather than successful ones, will be the norm.
"It may very well be that these campaigns start out with every intention of reaching the ballot and recalling the governor or senator or whoever, but the fact of the matter is it's a very difficult standard to achieve in most states. It costs a lot of money and you have to have a lot of very committed people out there. ...It's a standard that I don't think many campaigns can reach," she said.
Eighteen states have recall mechanisms. In addition to California, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota and Wisconsin, they are: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.