California Quandary

California appears to be hurtling toward the recall of its governor for entirely political reasons and it seems all most of us can do is watch in morbid fascination. In the first major poll after the filing deadline, NBC reported that 59% of Californians supported the recall of Gov. Gray Davis and only 35% opposed the initiative. Even 40% of Democrats said they would vote to recall Davis, whose centrism may have confused them.

Movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who has offered little more than slogans from his action movies, led the field with 31% support, followed by Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante with 18%. They were the only candidates in double figures. The pollsters named only six of the more than 115 candidates: Schwarzenegger, Bustamante, Republicans Bill Simon, who lost to Davis last November (and got 6% in the current poll), Peter Ueberroth, the former baseball commissioner (6%), state Sen. Tom McClintock (4%); and independent Progressive Populist columnist Arianna Huffington. Other candidates were preferred by 3%, while another 3% said they would not vote and 26% were not sure.

Davis should not be recalled. He's not been a particularly good governor but he was re-elected fair and square in 2002. He is not to blame for California's economy, whose slump reflects national trends. If anything, he shares blame for the state's budget problems with national Republicans who allowed energy companies to gouge the state in 2001 and Republican legislators who blocked tax increases that were needed this past year. This recall is nothing but an effort cooked up by the national GOP to overturn the results of yet another election. As much as the White House seeks to distance itself from the machinations while Bush embraces Schwarzenegger -- well, the smell is pretty foul.

The classy thing would have been for Davis to step aside and let Bustamante take over. Davis could have done so any time before the recall was certified. He would have spared the state the expense and embarrassment of possibly electing The Terminator. Instead he reportedly is trying to undercut Bustamante's campaign to run in the special election as a fail-safe in the likely event that the recall is approved by voters. Somebody needs to have a talk with Gray about the good of the state and the party ...

If Davis stays put, and the recall happens, some see an opportunity to elect a true progressive populist such as Huffington or Green candidate Peter Camejo. As much as we'd like to consider that possibility, we're afraid it's as much wishful thinking as those who pictured President Ralph Nader in November 2000. We don't place absolute trust in political polls, but our California readers can judge for themselves as the election approaches whether Camejo or Huffington have a reasonable chance to win. If not, a vote for Bustamante may seem like another "lesser of two evils" choice but it may be the best choice they have.

The California recall points out the need for instant runoff voting, which would encourage people to vote for alternative candidates without fear of spoilers. Under this system progressives could vote for Huffington, Camejo and Bustamante if they wished, ranking the candidates in order of preference, without fear that they were helping to elect a Dubya clone. For more on IRV see www.fairvote.org.

[Editor's Note: In the original version of this editorial, relying on other published reports, we suggested that Davis could stop the recall by resigning at any time before the Oct. 7 election. California state election law apparently says that after the petitions calling for the recall are received the election would go forward and Bustamante would serve only until the winner of the special election that is part of the recall is certified.]

What Do Democrats Want?

Democrats say they want their party leaders to speak out more on core issues such as helping the poor and looking out for workers and other legacies of the New Deal. Just 38% of Democrats said their party is doing an excellent or good job in protecting the interests of minorities, aiding the needy and representing working Americans, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, released Aug. 7. By contrast, 57% of Republicans gave their party high marks on issues such as cutting taxes and pushing social issues important to conservatives.

The candidate whose rhetoric comes closest to the Democratic ideal today is Dennis Kucinich. The Cleveland congressman and Progressive Caucus co-chair recently spoke to Campus Greens conference in Austin, where he proclaimed, "I am a Green Democrat, but I am doing missionary work because someone has to take the message to the Democratic Party."

With the Greens, Kucinich focused on the illegitimacy of the Iraq war and challenged the college students to question the use of campuses for military purposes and to teach the public about the war. "Students must love their country enough to challenge the system and change the system," he told them. He also said the US should abolish all nuclear weapons, instead of seeking to come up with a new generation of nuclear weapons.

He embraced Green principles of sustainability and brought the crowd to their feet with his pledge, upon taking office, to immediately cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement and quit the World Trade Organization. He would replace "free trade" deals with fair trade agreements that uphold worker rights, human rights and environmental protections. Another popular pledge would close the former School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and notorious for training Latin American military leaders who were later implicated in human rights abuses in their home countries.

For all that, and other progressive positions including support for single-payer universal health care, repeal of the PATRIOT Act and support for rural communities and family farms, only 23% in the Pew poll had heard of Kucinich and 28% of that number thought they might vote for him.

Howard Dean, although considerably less progressive than Kucinich, has gained from his attempts to differentiate his policies from the centrist Democrats. His name recognition increased from 37% in early July to 46% in the Pew poll. Among those who have heard of Dean, 41% said they might vote for him. Dean still trailed his better-known competitors: 50% said they might vote for Sen. Joe Lieberman; 47% liked Sen. John Kerry and 45% Rep. Dick Gephardt.

Keep Paper Ballots

A report by Johns Hopkins University computer scientists warning that Diebold electronic voting machines could be hacked into and election results tampered with lends further credence to alarms raised by Progressive Populist correspondents over the past year. The Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute study of voting machine software found so many flaws that any teenager with a modicum of computer savvy could manipulate the system and change the outcome of an election.

Although the study only covered Diebold, which has 55,000 electronic voting machines installed in the USA, the same complaints are heard about other brands. Even systems that claim multiple backups are subject to hacking that is virtually undetectable if there is no paper trail, experts say.

Diebold said the scientists got ahold of outdated software, which was inadvertently placed on a public website, but the researchers said comments and copyright notices convinced them it was legitimate. Avi Rubin, director of the Information Security Institute, told Reuters the Diebold software was so full of errors that it would have to be rewritten completely. Even then, he said, computers and voting should not mix. "I am against electronic voting because I think voting is too important and computers are too difficult to secure."

Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., has introduced HR 2239, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003, to require a voter-verified paper record for use in manual recounts as of the November 2004 general election. It also requires "surprise" recounts comparing the paper ballots and computer-reported returns in at least 0.5% of jurisdictions.

For more on voting security concerns see www.populist.com/voting.html. -- JMC

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