Recalling a Recall

The ballots are still coming in, but even before the California recall election on September 14, Democrats were hailing the victory of Gavin Newsom, who had on his side the postal service, illegal voters, and an audit-proof print-your-own-ballot scheme. This outcome invites a look back at 2003, when Californians succeeded in replacing a Democratic governor, and what that might mean going forward. 

On October 7, 2003, 55.4 percent of Californians opted to remove Democrat Gray Davis, who couldn’t keep the lights on. The 134 candidates vying to replace Davis included actor Gary Coleman, pundit Arianna Huffington, pornographer Larry Flint, and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who prevailed with 48.58 percent of the vote. Republicans jumped for joy. 

Schwarzenegger posed with a broom and promised to clean house. He declared war on government employee unions and promised to “blow up the boxes”—the maze of boards and commissions that serve as soft landing spots for washed-up politicians. Tough dialogue aside, the “Governator” quickly abandoned reform and became a strategic ally of left-wing Democrats. Like Harry Tasker’s terrorist foes in “True Lies,” they were “all bad.” 

After Bay Area voters booted State Senator Carole Migden, a Democrat known for verbally abusing her own staff, Schwarzenegger duly appointed Migden to the state’s waste-management board at $132,000 a year. The Governator, a self-described fiscal conservative, was also a pal of Democratic Party insider Robert Klein, the wealthy real estate developer who created the California Housing Finance Agency (CHFA) in 1973. Klein in 2004 was the chief backer of Proposition 71, which sought $3 billion for embryonic stem cell research. 

The wealthy Democrat claimed the measure would cure a host of deadly diseases and have the state treasury overflowing with royalties. The measure established the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which promptly hired former state Democratic Party boss Art Torres and tripled his salary to $225,000. By the time the $3 billion had been spent, a ballpark figure for the number of FDA-approved cures and therapies was . . . zero.

In his book Total Recall, Schwarzenegger called the leftist Fabian Núñez, a former state assembly speaker, “one of my closest allies among the Democrats.” The pair worked together on AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, “our boldest policy leap,” which the governor claimed would be good for the economy. It wasn’t, and the relationship with Núñez went far beyond climate change. 

In 2008, Núñez’s son Esteban was involved in the fatal stabbing of college student Luis Santos and sentenced to 16 years in prison for manslaughter, avoiding a possible life sentence for murder. The former assembly speaker tried to get the sentence reduced, but a judge refused. On January 2, 2011, during his final hours as governor, Schwarzenegger commuted Esteban’s sentence to seven years. The Governator failed to notify the victim’s family and Judge Lloyd Connelly called the action “distasteful and repugnant.”

Nothing about that decision appears in Total Recall, in which the author claims, “Republicans had been stupidly alienating women.” That is a longstanding Democratic charge, and it raised an issue Californians overlooked. Like Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1992, the 2003 recall victor was a two-for-one deal. 

The daughter of George McGovern’s 1972 running mate Sergeant Shriver (after McGovern dumped Thomas Eagleton), Arnold’s wife Maria Schriver, was Democrat royalty. According to a friend who goes back to Arnold’s bodybuilding days, Maria was the force behind the Governator’s picks for key offices, such as state director of finance. 

Gray Davis left California in fathomless debt, so Californians had cause to expect a proven economist with a record of budgetary reform. Arnold’s pick was Ana Matosantos, a Puerto Rican with an undergraduate degree in political science and feminist studies. Matosantos easily transitioned to chief budget advisor for recurring Governor Jerry Brown, and her tenure was marked by “multibillion-dollar shortfalls.” True to form, Governor Gavin Newsom made Matosantos his cabinet secretary before proclaiming her state “energy czar.” 

In 2010, after the retirement of state Chief Justice Ronald George, the Governator selected appeal court judge Tani Cantil-Sakauye, billed as a “moderate Republican.” In 2015, an illegal alien gunned down Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier, but Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye was untroubled by Democratic sanctuary policies that protected the shooter. In 2017, Cantil-Sakauye charged that ICE agents were “stalking” criminal illegals in courthouses. 

In effect, Cantil-Sakauye was Schwarzenegger’s Rose Bird, Jerry Brown’s pro-criminal pick for chief justice, soundly rejected by the voters in 1986. If anybody thought that Cantil-Sakauye and Ana Matosantos were selections of Maria Shriver, based solely on identity politics, it would be hard to blame them. For his part, the Governator was sometimes a good goalie, vetoing some terrible bills. 

After the disastrous Gray Davis, voters expected a true reformer. They got a climate change dogmatist, a collaborator with corrupt politicians, and a coddler of violent criminals. In short, Arnold Schwarzenegger governed as a leftist Democrat, and current voters might find a few lessons going forward. 

Assuming they can be conducted in a fair and legal manner—not exactly a certainty at this point—the 2022 midterms will constitute a recall of sorts for Joe Biden and his junta of big spenders, cracked generals, and white-coat supremacists. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003, many candidates will be talking a good game but Americans have cause for caution. To paraphrase Matthew 10:36, the enemies of the people can sometimes be those of their own party. 

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