Governor Gray Davis of California may have the charisma of a coatrack and he may irritate aides by taking conference calls on his exercise cycle in the morning, but he has not been accused of any crime, there are no state funds missing and no interns telling stories to the tabloids. So why is he facing a burgeoning movement to have him recalled from office less than a year after he was re-elected?
Well, there's California's $38 billion deficit, the largest state shortfall in history, a number larger than the entire budget of all but one other state (New York). Much of the deficit is due to the collapse of the dot-com universe, which powered the state's economy in the '90s, and Davis can hardly be blamed for that. On the other hand, he was not exactly forthright about how large the deficit was going to be. In any case, Californians want a target for their fiscal pain and frustration, and Davis has become the state insignia for economic ineptitude. "It's no longer the San Andreas Fault, it's Gray Davis' fault," comedian Dennis Miller said at a fund raiser for President Bush in Los Angeles last month.
Davis' fate has had a seismic effect on Republicans in California and Washington, though for different reasons. As Republican state hopefuls--possibly including Arnold Schwarzenegger--line up to vie for Davis' job, the White House is keeping its distance. With eyes fixed on the next presidential election, the White House would rather see a deeply unpopular Democratic Governor stay in his job, which might help Bush's chances of winning the state in 2004--something no Republican has done since a different George Bush won there in 1988.
Despite popularity ratings as low as 21% and a host of rivals circling him, Davis is defiant. He dismisses the recall campaign against him as "partisan mischiefmaking by Republican right-wingers." In an interview with TIME last week, he said he would not resign, adding, "It's like the [Oakland] Raiders wanting to get a second game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because they didn't like the way they played in the Super Bowl. That's not the way life works."