Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Davis Descending LX: Sign Here

For the several days media coverage of the California recall campaign has been dominated to excess by considerations related to the sexual groping charges against Arnold Schwarzenegger (the Nazi allegations having perished in the fetal stage). Very little time will tell, but I continue to consider these revelations to be of at most modest significance. Yes, the polls have tightened somewhat in the last few days - but that is completely normal for California referendums in the last days before an election, and this recall election has a lot in common with referendums. There has been no substantial published evidence that such tightening is mostly attributable to the groping allegations.

On the other hand, Gray Davis' recent signing of many bills that he otherwise would have almost certainly vetoed I see as having a substantial effect that has not been the subject of much analysis.

Despite media efforts to cast this election as a circus, what is at stake is very mundane and essential: First and foremost, is Gray Davis an acceptable governor?

Well, a man who will sign legislation only because his job is threatened - even though he believes those bills are bad for the state and its people - is not an acceptable governor. For example, consider this Los Angeles Times item:

...Gov. Gray Davis' signing of a bill that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses didn't do much to save his political skin. He ... had [previously] twice vetoed [it] ... According to the most recent Times poll, Latinos are much more likely to support the new driver's license law than are their non-Latino counterparts. ... 32% of likely Latino voters said they would be more likely [to vote for Davis because he signed the bill], 27% said they'd be less likely and 37% said it made no difference.

Why would a Latino voter be less likely to vote for Mr. Davis because he signed a bill that the voter thinks is a good idea? One likely reason is that such Latino voters are disturbed by the thought of retaining a governor who signs bills he thinks are bad enough to have vetoed twice just because his job is threatened.

Mr. Davis has engaged in a great deal of this kind of activity. He has has made more than 260 appointments to judgeships and state commissions since the California recall election was announced 10 weeks ago. Mr. Davis has signed bills expanding gay partnership rights and the employer-paid health mandates. The health insurance bill will almost certainly have serious negative effects on the state's overall economy and employment. So what? - he seems to say - if it helps me keep my job. But as the reaction to the driver's license bill shows, these actions may not help Mr. Davis keep his job at all - quite the contrary.

Such behavior of Mr. Davis - not allegations of his opponent's old breast gropes - is the most important late development in this campaign. And I believe it is having a profound effect.

And the California Democratic Party is determined to see if that effect exists and just how much it can be intensified:

Because many of the appointments require confirmation by the Democratic-controlled State Senate, which is not in session, a move is afoot to call a special session. .... The rush to fill the state posts reflects of a broader political reality that has permeated Democratic circles for months. ... A team of Mr. Davis's lawyers has gone so far as to research state law to determine that should he lose the recall, Mr. Davis can still sign bills until a new governor is sworn in, which could take several weeks if the vote tally is disputed. .... A state official with knowledge of the situation said the governor's office recently put in an order to the state archives for storage boxes, along with a list of approved vendors for shredding documents. .... At the same time, Democratic legislators have been imploring Mr. Davis to sign bills...

Is that the kind of governor voters want? Is that the kind of legislature voters want? The polls suggest that Latinos (by far the most misunderstood minority in this country) are not reacting well to such manipulations. The election itself will tell a bigger story.

My guess is that the story is just beginning.

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