Recallís critics ignore democratic virtues

    Those who were at UCSD last year to witness the A.S. elections need no one to tell them that the definition of democracy in California is increasingly prone to debate. This becomes even more apparent when court systems are involved in making electoral decisions, as anyone from the disqualified Students First! slate will probably rant about.

    Last spring, the A.S. Election Committee decided that due to disregard for campaign ethics, Students First! would not be able to take office. Students First! bit back sharply and almost violently, saying that their majority tally of the vote is all that mattered. In the end, the definition of democracy was slightly less apparent.

    Someone needs to define democracy for us now as Californians, because there are more definitions floating in the public arena right now than there are candidates for governor. As the recall of Governor Gray Davis enters even more uncharted territories, terms and conditions of democracy have clearly not been set in stone. And all the while, each side is shouting down the other over the ìundemocraticî steps they have taken, respectively. With so much yelling, it is extremely difficult to get bearings on whom the defenders of democracy are and who are its opponents.

    Because the spokespeople for each candidacy use sound bytes to campaign, there is no time for study of the recallís long and involved history. Most ill-informed are those who say the recall is undemocratic. The recall was started in 1911 as a part of the new California Constitution to protect the state against corruption at the hands of the giant Southern Pacific Railroad, which wielded power unimaginable in todayís political society. The Republicans staunchly opposed the legislation at the time, since it was a populist tool of direct democracy, and thus a slap in the face of the Republic that was set up by the forefathers. However, the recall was still adopted, and initially, there were a great number of recall attempts. Despite the risk of political chaos, the recall helped bring down the railroad’s stranglehold on California and, in this rare case, direct democracy was the solution.

    Luckily, the recall has been used sparingly over the last 80 years, with only four state-wide officials being recalled, though many more at a local level. Most interestingly however, is that despite the lack of success, every single California governor in the last 30 years has faced a recall attempt. Therefore, questioning the legitimacy of the recall is absurd, at least in reference to its existence in the California Constitution. Also, referring to the recall as a tool of a vast right conspiracy is incorrect, considering that several Republican governors have had recall attempts mounted against them as well.

    It is, however, highly ironic that present day Republicans are those who are wielding the recall. The amendment is indeed populist, the antithesis of modern Republican thinking. Many conservative ideological purists, such as veteran pundit George Will, have denounced the recall as hypocritical when used by Republicans. These thinkers, now strange bedfellows with Davis supporters, still believe that the embattled governor should be allowed to finish his term despite his shortcomings, and ideologically, they are absolutely correct.

    There is little doubt that the initiators of the recall were merely sore losers. There is much reason to be sore, especially after the 2002 election. California Republicans, in a stupefying move, chose Bill Simon, who ó in a wonderful display of failure despite the odds ó lost the gubernatorial race to the woefully unpopular Davis. And, in fact, the recall gained little momentum until two important events took place: the enactment of the illegal car tax by the cold and hapless Davis, and the promotion of the recall movement by rich Republicans, such as Darrell Issa. And while the initial motive behind the recall is suspect, it has nothing to do with the validity of the recall, constitutionally or democratically.

    Others argue that the ramifications of the recall overshadow its usefulness. There could be many retaliatory recalls following this one, and a renewed sense of urgency to merely remove those whom you canít get rid of by election. This is true and extremely poignant in a time when America is becoming increasingly polarized. This doesnít even consider the extra financial burden, which is one of the reasons Davis is being recalled.

    Again, however, it is incorrect to say that the idea of a recall is undemocratic. The people are getting to vote, in an amendment passed democratically by elected officials, for one of 135 different candidates. It is true that the amendment is antiquated, but it hasnít been repealed democratically, and thus it is valid. If it were that important, it would have been repealed long ago. Now if people decide its political consequences are too heavy, it will be repealed soon. But for now, it is legal and obviously functional.

    However, none of this is to say that there arenít plenty of undemocratic goings-on. The American court system, in the self-righteous move of all self-righteous moves, has seemingly deciding that it should be writing our legislation for us. In an intriguingly bipartisan spirit, both conservative courts and liberal courts have thrown constitutional interpretation out the window in favor of civil rights activism, except with more power and less checks and balances.

    For example, the Supreme Court, a liberally-proclaimed bastion of conservatism, decided to wave the flag of civil rights activism and upheld the racist affirmative action, only slapping the wrists of a college that gave more points for being a student of color than scoring a perfect SAT score.

    And now, the ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has long since abandoned democracy by repeatedly overturning the will of the people, decided to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters more than punch card ballots ever would by delaying the vote. With 135 candidates on the ballot, and possibly more as the deadline for candidacy filing is moved back as the recall amendment requires, as well as at least 10 major Democratic primary candidates on one ballot, the idea of holding off a ballot until May 3 would be a nightmare, confusing to political science professors, but even more so to minorities and the poverty-stricken. The simple truth that judges, both conservative and liberal, are forgetting in our country is that their job is to interpret the constitution, not enforce legislation. Enforcing judicial will is more resembling of dictatorship than democracy, regardless of the ideology.

    In the end, the recall amendment is antiquated and populist. It’s a recipe for disaster, but direct democracy is still democracy. While it is useful to criticize the opposing side by labeling them enemies of the famed American way, it is an extreme disservice to the electorate, which is having a difficult enough time trying to remember the name of its chosen candidate, much less the names of the other 134.

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