October 6, 2003

Dude, where's my recall ballot?

I can readily admit to being one of those annoying people who think that where they grew up is far superior to anywhere else in the world. And for the most part, I maintain this attitude. I love California, specifically the Bay Area where I lived for my entire life prior to coming to school here in Chicago.

Yet today, I can understand why California is recalling its governor, Gray Davis. I had dismissed other people's claims of why he should be recalled: the energy crisis, the budget deficit, the high taxes—I had heard it all. I dismissed these as right wing complaints and staunchly vowed to vote no on the recall and then yes for Cruz Bustamante, California's current lieutenant governor. Non-Californians may ask how this can be, that someone who works for Gray Davis could potentially take his job, but that's just how these things work in California.

Today is the special recall voting day in California. To prepare for this day, I carefully filled out my absentee ballot application before I even left for Chicago, sometime in the first week of September. I filled in the address for my dorm and smugly walked it to the mailbox, thinking, "Take that, Ahnohld." Over a month later, I still haven't received my ballot.

How is it that the politics here in Chicago, the hometown of "vote early, vote often," are more straightforward than those of my beloved California? And why can't I get my absentee ballot?

There are serious problems with the way the state of California runs. This is pretty much admitted by everyone who resides there and every political analyst who comments on CNBC, CNN or Fox. No one questions that the state is in turmoil.

What I do question is the ability of those unhappy with the work of a recently elected official—Davis only was re-elected in November of 2002—to simply recall that official. True, Davis has made some mistakes, but does anyone really think that Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man with no political experience, will do a better job? Or for that matter, would child-star Gary Coleman? Or smut peddler/First Amendment-advocate Larry Flynt? Or an adult film star who goes simply by the name Angelyne?

Somehow the political process has not only been turned into a joke, it has at the same time turned California into the butt of the nation's jokes. And I admit that I have been right there the whole time, making fun of the absurdity of the entire thing. Yet when it comes down to it, when it comes time to cast my vote, and I find myself without a ballot, without a chance to make myself heard, it is clear to me that the recall process isn't a joke, and the problems in my home state are real. When an election is occurring, and those who wish to vote can't even receive a ballot, there are problems that must be addressed.

Hopefully, the next governor of California, whoever he or she may be, will address these issues of a failed bureaucratic system. It probably won't be Davis—according to a recent Knight-Ridder poll, 67 percent of likely voters disapprove of Davis's job.

What scares me is that around 20 percent of the state is registered to vote. If by some miracle, all 20 percent make it to the voting booth (minus those who didn't receive their ballots) and someone wins with a plurality, say 25 percent of the recall vote, then essentially California's leader will have a 5 percent mandate to lead. I don't know much about math, but a 33 percent approval rating starts looking good next to a 5 percent mandate to lead.

My other worry is about what kind of precedent a recall sets. I might not be happy with whoever wins this recall election, which could lead to another recall. And another. And another. And with each recall costing millions of dollars, clearly the current budget crisis facing the state will not be solved.

So despite all the craziness, despite what David Letterman or Jon Stewart or Conan O'Brien say, I still have pride in my state. We are just having a rough time right now. However, it is difficult for me to reconcile my interest in supporting the current governor with my disappointment in my inability to get involved. In the end, does it really matter all that much? In a few weeks, California's recall election will just be an afterthought, as the nation moves on to debating and discussing the 10 floundering Democratic candidates for president. It matters to me, and I'm not planning on forgetting the recall. I'm going to be sitting by the mail and waiting for my ballot to arrive, hoping that I can finally have my say.