California Democrats Want To Make It Harder for Voters To Challenge Their Power
Today, California is holding its second-ever recall vote for a sitting governor. Unlike Gray Davis in 2003, Democrat Gavin Newsom is widely projected to survive the effort. The recall mechanism itself, however, may not prove so lucky. At least not in its current form.
Why? Because Democrats and their empathizers in the media and academe are talking themselves into the conclusion that one of progressivism’s crowning electoral achievements, originally aimed at a democratically unaccountable machine, has become an anachronism now that Democrats are the ones pulling all the levers.
“For starters, California’s recalls can happen in off-years, which makes them ripe for manipulation by the minority party,” The New York Times editorialized Monday (please note the conspiratorial/pejorative word choice; it’s standard issue in these efforts):
Voters in off-cycle elections generally skew older, whiter and more conservative, a recent study led by the University of California, San Diego, found. In other words, not very representative of California’s population….The leading candidate is the Republican talk-radio host Larry Elder, whose conservative policy positions—including his opposition to mask mandates, abortion rights and a minimum wage, as well as his troubling views on women’s rights and climate change—aren’t in line with any statewide election result in California for decades.
Contra the Times, the purpose of the century-old recall feature, which has only made it to the ballot 11 times for state elected officials (six of whom were removed), was not to ensure that California’s public representatives match up demographically and ideologically with the electorate, but rather to act as a between-elections check on corruption, incompetence, or whatever the relevant voters deemed a firing offense. The second California official to be successfully recalled, back in 1913, was Democratic state senator Edwin Grant, whose San Francisco constituents did not care for Grant’s fervent opposition to the time-honored local industry of prostitution.
But “what was path-breaking and innovative a century ago,” warned public policy professors Henry Brady and Karthick Ramakrishnan in Monday’s Los Angeles Times, “looks anachronistic and downright dangerous today.” (“Dangerous,” alas, is a not-uncommon political-class adjective to describe the prospect of having someone else govern the Golden State for the next 14 months, after which the Democratic nominee will almost certainly win again.)
The profs continue: “In these times of intense party polarization, we should be wary of mechanisms that enable electoral losers to win back power through outlandish means or to derail the governing agenda of a popularly elected officeholder.”
That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is to note that polarization has helped produce 30 essentially one-party states, in which the same team control
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