Bye-Bye, Gray!

Daily Kos (1) thinks Gray Davis is likely to survive the recall and (2) thinks that would be a good thing. [*]

Those two beliefs, especially the second, are characteristic of Democrats nationally, but rare among Democrats in California. We all know that Davis is toast, and most of us regard toastitude as no more than he deserves.

Kos thinks that Davis can win this election by energizing core Democrats. He can’t. Democratic identifiers are only about 40-45% of the California electorate. And Davis’s speech at UCLA yesterday was apparently (I didn’t see it) a complete fiasco. Text here [*]. Claiming credit for the fact that the blackout occurred back east, after the way Davis fumbled and bumbled the energy problem both before the crisis of 2001 and after, gets him nothing but a horselaugh.

I don’t know anyone here who thinks Davis has a chance. Those of us who want to keep Schwarzenegger out of the governor’s mansion are trying to get ourselves organized around Cruz Bustamante, for two reasons.

First, the arithmetic makes Bustamente a much better bet to win the beauty contest than Davis is to survive the yes-or-no. If the 40% of the voters who vote “no” (i.e., to keep Davis) vote for Bustamante as a backup, he wins easily, since McClintock and Simon, the two right-wing candidates, are almost sure to get 20% of the vote between them, and Ueberroth is likely to get as many votes as Arianna Huffington and Peter Camejo, the two left wing-nuts. Moreover, Bustamante is going to pick up some of the “yes” vote as well. What it comes down to is that it’s easier to win an election if you only need 40% of the votes.

[I think part of the problem here is that people who don’t live in California assume that Californians are so shallow and superficial that Schwarzenegger is guaranteed to win the beauty contest. But that “misunderestimates” the electorate here, and misunderstands how much the true-believing dittoheads hate Schwarzenegger and how powerful they are in the California GOP.]

Second, Bustamante might well be a better governor than Davis has been or could be. Davis has been a relentlessly money-driven and poll-driven governor; substantively, his administration has been fairly bad for most liberal causes. Davis defended Clinton during the impeachment, but was no use at all to Gore either during the campaign or during the recount. Bustamante is a far more consistent Democrat than Davis is. Moreover, while Bustamante isn’t wildly popular with the rest of the political class, Davis is loathed, by Democrats as much as, or even more than, Republicans. (“There’s no middle ground on Gray,” Senate President John Burton has been quoted as saying. “You either hate him or you don’t like him.”)

Yes, allowing the Republicans a replay every time they lose an election would be bad, but let’s not forget how Davis won that last election. He helped Bill Simon, an ethically and cognitively challenged wing-nut, beat Dick Riordan — who would have been a credible opponent for Davis — in the Republican primary, giving Californians virtually no choice. Even then, he almost managed to lose. So the notion that the recall is some sort of “insult to democracy” doesn’t really hold water.

Davis’s current strategy seems to be to weaken Bustamante to make it look likely that Schwarzenegger will win Part II, as a way of blackmailing people who can’t stand Schwarzenegger into voting “No” on Part I. It doesn’t deserve to work, and it isn’t going to work.

I can understand the desire to fight this election as part of the great crusade against Bush. But that’s not the way it looks here, and the more the national Democrats try to tell us in California that we ought to keep this turkey as an act of party loyalty, the sillier they look. If you want a Democrat in the governor’s office here, start figuring out ways to help Bustamante.

Update Atrios dissents, and I reply. [*]

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com