Extent of recall's effects on politics still undecided

Voters obviously unhappy, experts say, but trend might not sweep nation

October 09, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - Angry voters - the people who brought America Ross Perot, Newt Gingrich and Jesse Ventura - are back. At least in California. The big question is whether they are resurging enough to throw out other governors or shape the coming presidential election.

Angry voters turned California politics upside down Tuesday. Their passion against a litany of local woes and a distinctly unlovable governor fueled their historic decision to fire Gray Davis and replace him with a Hollywood hero who is untested in politics.

That could herald a national movement in the coming presidential election, and perhaps others in the 18 states that allow governors to be recalled.

Voters nationwide are upset, especially about the stagnant economy and continuing trouble in Iraq. So there is clearly potential for voters to turn against incumbents, from President Bush on down, and replace them with outsiders.

"Nationally I see this [recall election result] as anti-incumbent, anti-establishment," said Thomas Mann, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington.

"The success of this effort is going to nationally reinforce the bitter partisan warfare that has characterized our politics," he said. "While Republicans have reason to be happy in California, I think President Bush has less reason to take encouragement from this. He ought to be grateful there is no recall provision in the national government."

However, it is equally possible that the tremors from California's political earthquake could stay within its borders, for Californians had more to be mad about than most Americans. They suffered through a long energy crisis. They watched their high-flying dot-com economy crash. And their mammoth $38 billion budget deficit dwarfed other states' entire budgets.

And although 17 other states allow for gubernatorial recall elections, none has procedures as easy to invoke as California's.

"It's not going to happen in many other places," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "There's a reason it hasn't happened since 1921. Everyone saw California. They were enjoying it enormously, they found it entertaining, but the last thing they want is for their state to become a joke as well."

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