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California Recall: How It Happened and What's Next


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• Part 2: What's Next

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Part 1: News and How It Happened

The California recall election is finished, and California has a new governor.

By a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent, California's voters spoke their mind loud and clear that Gov. Gray Davis should be removed for office. In his place, the voters selected film star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who outpolled Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante 48 percent to 32 percent.

The election had been postponed by a federal Appeals Court, which had ruled that the punchcard that state officials plan to require voters to use was illegal under the Supreme Court decision that determined that George W. Bush was president in 2000. Then, the Appeals court had reversed itself, saying that the election could go forward, since 700,000 absentee ballots had already been received and the state had already spent millions of dollars to mail election materials to voters.

Backers of the recall election blamed Davis for the state's economic troubles. Davis, elected just last year, was suffering one of the state's all-time low approval levels. Voters agreed, apparently, elected Schwarzenegger, a political novice, to the state's highest governmental office and allowing him a chance to make good on his campaign promise to "Bring California Back."

The recall of a high-ranking government official is a provision in California's constitution that was instituted in 1911 under the guidance of then-Gov. Hiram Johnson, a member of the Progressive Party, which urged, among other things, that people take more of a direct role in government. Johnson also helped write into the constitution provisions for the initiative and referendums that have been to prevalent through the years on California's ballots.

It was not the first time that voters in California have tried to recall their governor. In fact, it was the 31st time. Among the previous targets were Republicans Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson. The last 30 times, however, not enough signatures were gathered and the recall drive failed to reach the ballot.

This time was different. A series of devastating economic setbacks set the stage, including the energy crisis of a few years ago and the crushing collapse of the Internet economy. Davis narrowly got re-elected in 2002, and he continued to feel the heat this year.

The man behind the drive to recall Davis was Ted Costa, an anti-tax crusader who didn't run for governor and has since moved on to other issues. Once Costa started the ball rolling, however, it rolled over Davis and carried Schwarzenegger into the governor's mansion.

Voter interest and turnout were both high. Estimates put the turnout at 60 percent, the highest for a nonpresidential election since 1982 and a full 10 points higher than for last year's election, which kept Davis in office.

The last governor to be recalled was Lynn J. Frazier of North Dakota, way back in 1921.

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