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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Lessons learned from California recall

As we all know, last month groups supporting the recall effort announced that they had collected enough
to force Gov. Scott Walker to face a recall election.

Critics have said this effort is a cheap political ploy to unseat a democratically-elected leader that did
what he said he was going to do. Supporters say it is a unique show of democracy in the state that gave
birth to modern progressivism. Regardless of your personal views on it, the recall is going to happen, and
there are lessons to be learned from California’s 2003 recall election. 

Wisconsin’s recall may look to be a show of democracy right now, but the recall of then-Gov. Gray
turned into a disgraceful show of media sensationalism and a stain on democracy. The recall
petition began in February of 2003 largely because of a costly and inconvenient energy crisis.
Congressman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., announced that he would fund the recall and tried to position himself
to be Davis’ challenger.


There were no primaries, the requirements to get on the ballot were low -something to the effect of 35
signatures and $100 -and as the year went on the race turned into more and more of a circus. By the
time the election came around, there were 135 candidates on the ballot with backgrounds in every field
from politics to porn. Only four of these candidates received more than one percent of the vote.

It is fair to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor more for the novelty he brought to
the race than any substantive reason. Luckily, Schwarzenegger turned out to be a fairly good governor.
He went on to pursue universal healthcare, sign the legalization of gay marriage (and later not build
a case against a challenge to the ban in court), implement environmental regulations, increase the state’s
minimum wage, and had at least a good vision for the state. He was, however, met by paralysis in the
state Legislature.

California is one of a few states that requires two-thirds of the state’s Legislature to vote for a budget
rather than a simple majority. The state is gerrymandered such that the Democrats will be close, but
never reach a two-thirds majority. During Schwarzenegger’s entire tenure as governor, the budget
was not on time once. Every year seemed to get worse and worse; some years the budget was not
passed until two to three months after the deadline. Because of the budget crisis, the California higher education and K-12 systems became dangerously underfunded. Police forces got cut, and much
of the state suffered. Because Schwarzenegger was a novice with no political experience, he was unable
to negotiate effectively, and he quickly became a non-factor.

Later we learned that much of the electricity crisis was due to wrongdoings by Enron.

There are many lessons to be learned from all this. One is to make sure that the recall is not a stain on
democracy. The primary process is key. Both parties must choose the right candidate. Voters must also
make sure they are voting for someone who can actually lead rather than just an alternative to what
they don’t want. It is important not to let the recall get more hype than it’s worth; it is the process by
which we will choose our governor, not a game show.

It is very important not to let the third party groups influence our democracy the way Enron did in
California. If you do not feel that Walker has egregiously violated his authority as governor, then vote for
Walker in the recall, but if you do, make sure to vote wisely.

The most important thing we learned from California is how easy it is for our democracy to become a
show of novelty rather than the expression of the people’s will. The people should be certain that the
recall was the expression of the public’s will and the public’s will alone, rather than a cheap show of
novelty or business or any other factor that could cloud our good judgment.

Spencer Lindsay ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science.

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