TWO EGGS OVER-MEDIUM, bacon, tomato slices, and over a million voter signatures. That's what Howard Kaloogian enjoyed for breakfast at Coco's Bakery Restaurant off Interstate 15 in Escondido, Calif. Mr. Kaloogian, who co-engineered the campaign to recall California Gov. Gray Davis, considered adding a fresh-baked muffin to his plate, then rejected it: too many carbs. The estate-planning attorney and former California assemblyman is hoping Golden State voters will soon reject Gov. Davis.
Mr. Kaloogian sipped his coffee then leaned forward over his breakfast plate, glowering. "There have been 31 attempts to recall a California governor," he said. "But nobody's succeeded because nobody has been as bad as Gray Davis."
Nobody's succeeded, that is, until now. On July 23, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said the campaign that began in March to recall the state's top Democrat had collected 1,356,408 valid voter signatures. That's nearly 50 percent more than needed to qualify the first gubernatorial recall election in state history.
By law, a special statewide election must be held within 80 days of the signature verification, and officials set the special election for Oct. 7. That vote will determine whether Gov. Davis will lose his job, and if he does, who will replace him. He is the first California governor to face a recall election since GOP Gov. Hiram Johnson signed a public-official "lemon law" in 1911. State legislatures have impeached governors-Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham in 1988, for example-but only one governor in U.S. history has ever been forced out by voters: North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier.
Mr. Frazier's faults-leftist leanings, cronyism, and fiscal subterfuge-are a lot like those cited by Gov. Davis's critics. When Gov. Davis took office in 1998, California enjoyed a $12 billion surplus. Four years later, the state's budget had plummeted into a hole $38 billion deep, driven by double-digit percentage spending increases approved by Gov. Davis and his Democrat-controlled legislature. (President Bush and his GOP House and Senate face voters next year-and they're open to similar criticism.) But during his November gubernatorial campaign, incumbent Davis downplayed the state's financial crisis, concealing from voters the size of the deficit. Then after he won reelection, the deficit seemed, suddenly and mysteriously, to mushroom.
Meanwhile, Californians are still smarting over the state's energy debacle in 2000, when Gov. Davis signed highly inflated electricity-generation contracts that sent power bills soaring and stuck consumers with higher energy rates for the next 20 years. Add to that a series of "pay to play" scandals: In 2000, for example, a Davis-appointed policy board allowed a refinery to increase toxic discharges into San Francisco Bay shortly after the company donated $70,500 to Gov. Davis's political war chest.
Plus, folks just don't like Gov. Davis much. Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton wrote that Gov. Davis is "arguably the most unpopular, the least respected, the lamest duck of any governor in modern times-virtually without political capital."
And therein lies one problem for conservatives nationwide who would like to see George W. Bush reelected. So hobbled is Gov. Davis that, were he to remain in office, his political infirmity could make it difficult, or at least extremely expensive, for the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate to win California's 54 electoral votes. But if voters boot Gov. Davis, they could conceivably replace him with another, more popular Democrat-particularly if the GOP vote is split among too many candidates.
Democrats and some national pundits have painted the Davis recall as a mean-spirited Republican conspiracy to hijack California's government. But the official original "proponent" of the recall, longtime tax reformer and self-styled maverick Ted Costa, isn't a Republican. And he filed his petition over the objections of Howard Kaloogian and other Republicans who favored a recall, but wanted more time to prepare proper documents and line up financial support.
Neither is it true that the recall is merely an inside game. This gubernatorial recall is not only the first to reach the California ballot; it is also the first even to pass the first threshold of constitutional legitimacy-the gathering of 10 percent of the necessary voter signatures. That milestone was reached on grassroots effort alone.
The prairie fire began Dec. 30 on KSFO, San Francisco's all-conservative talk-radio station. Host Melanie Morgan, chatting with then-chairman of the California GOP Shawn Steel about Gov. Davis's poor performance, asked Mr. Steel why he didn't launch a recall drive. That show sparked a flurry of January phone calls between Mr. Steel, Mr. Kaloogian, veteran GOP tactician Sal Russo, and later, Mr. Costa. All were angry over Gov. Davis's postelection revelations that the state budget was hemorrhaging red ink. They felt he had lied to the electorate to keep his job.
But while Mr. Kaloogian, Mr. Russo, and others pondered strategy and resources, Mr. Costa, who heads the Golden State tax reform group People's Advocate, took matters into his own hands. "We begged him not to file," Mr. Kaloogian told WORLD. "We wanted to make sure we had the necessary backing."
Still, at 6 a.m. on Feb. 4, Mr. Costa telephoned the Eric Hogue Show, a conservative political talk program on Sacramento's KTKZ. During an on-air break, he told Mr. Hogue that all he needed to launch a recall was 65 to 100 signatures on a recall citation, which he would then file with the secretary of state. Would Mr. Hogue ask interested listeners to drive over to the People's Advocate offices and sign? "I'm here now at 3407 Arden Way," Mr. Costa said on the air moments later. "I just put on a fresh pot of coffee. Come on down."
Listeners' reaction was immediate, Mr. Hogue remembers. "My phone lines lit up with callers asking, 'Where is it again? How do I get there?' I had a taxicab driver named Rick call in and say, 'I'm taking the rest of the day off.' He was going to go down there and sign himself, then pick up anyone who needed a ride and take them down for free. Businessmen already commuting to San Francisco called in and said: 'I'm going to be late for work because I'm turning around and coming back to sign.'"
Less than two hours later, Mr. Costa had his 100 signers, a group the Eric Hogue Show later dubbed "The 100 Patriots of the Recall." But Mr. Costa's first attempts to file his recall petition were less than auspicious: Secretary of State Shelley rejected his first petition because it contained numerous errors. It took two more tries to produce a legally sound document, which Mr. Shelley finally certified on March 25.
The press and political establishment responded with a collective yawn. After all, recall efforts in California are standard political fare, like celebrity candidates and marijuana initiatives. To qualify for the ballot, recall organizers would need to persuade nearly 900,000 registered voters to sign petitions. No recall drive had ever even come close.
But Mr. Costa, Mr. Hogue, and others were undaunted. They organized a series of "drive-by signings," in which citizens could sign recall petitions at orange-coned drive-up lanes equipped with coffee and donuts.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kaloogian had formed the "Recall Gray Davis Committee," a group that may make history as the first to leverage the Internet successfully to recall a major public official. Mr. Kaloogian traveled to conservative radio stations statewide, driving traffic to his website, www.recallgraydavis.com, where a recall petition was available for download. Even before Mr. Shelley certified Mr. Costa's recall petition, 85,000 people had logged onto the site and agreed not only to sign the petition, but to circulate it. Before the signature drive was over, the petition would be downloaded nearly half a million times.
"Talk radio and the Web are almost a replacement for the old party organization, when party members used to meet in precinct leaders' living rooms," said Sal Russo, who worked on Ronald Reagan's 1966 gubernatorial campaign. Mr. Russo said the one-two punch of conservative talk radio and the Internet enabled recall organizers to "rally conservatives up and down this state. They would never have read about it in the mainstream media."
But Mr. Kaloogian, Mr. Russo, and others knew the grassroots effort could not carry the recall all the way to the ballot. That would take money. In pursuit of it, Mr. Kaloogian paid a visit in March to California Assemblyman Ray Haynes. At Kamon's, a Sacramento sushi bar, Mr. Haynes snacked on a spicy-hot creation called an "Emergency Room Roll" while Mr. Kaloogian described the recall effort's need for cash. Gerry Parsky, the White House's West Coast finance wizard, had already declined to bankroll the recall. Millionaire businessman Bill Simon, whom Gray Davis defeated narrowly in November 2002, had also demurred, not wanting to project the image he was trying to buy an election he'd already lost.
So Mr. Kaloogian asked Mr. Haynes to talk to his friend U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a wealthy GOP congressman from Southern California. Rep. Issa, who had already considered making a run for governor in 2006, had a question: If he were to run in a recall instead, what did Mr. Haynes think it would take for him to be the Republican everyone got behind?
Mr. Haynes replied, "You write the check."
The congressman deferred his decision until after the war in Iraq was over. Meanwhile, the grassroots petition drive continued to roll, and by May 5 had made history: Recall organizers reached an unprecedented milestone, collecting 10 percent-or about 100,000-of the signatures necessary to qualify the recall for the ballot. The 10 percent threshold forced Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to order county registrars of voters to begin verifying the signatures.
The next day, Darrell Issa's "Rescue California" committee was born, and an army of paid signature-gatherers soon hit the streets. By June, Rep. Issa would spend $1.5 million of his own money to finance the recall effort. He also became the first Republican to openly declare his interest in taking Gov. Davis's job. Other names surfaced, including Bill Simon, former Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan, State Senator Tom McClintock, and actor Arnold Schwarzenagger, a liberal Republican and gun-control proponent who said he'd consider running after he finished launching his new movie, Terminator 3.
But while big money and big names dominated media coverage of the recall thereafter, Rep. Haynes was an eyewitness to the drive's continuing grassroots appeal.
Rescue California director Dave Gilliard sent a mailer to heavily Republican zip codes in the state, Mr. Haynes told WORLD. "I was in their offices a couple of days later. That day's [incoming] mail filled seven of those white plastic mail trays you see at the post office. One of those trays was completely filled with $20, $30, and $50 checks from people all over the state. It was just amazing-stacked from top to bottom and side to side with checks."
Meanwhile, Gov. Davis was making moves of his own. To cut down on the number of signature-gatherers available to recall supporters, the Davis camp hired prominent signature-gathering firms for other projects. They also recruited individual circulators to hawk an "anti-recall" petition, promising to pay them more than the buck per signature the recall side was paying.
Still, enough professional signature-gatherers remained to fan out all over the state in support of the recall, manning tables and waving clipboards at Home Depots, Target stores, and other high-traffic spots. Steadily, the number of signatures rose, hitting 1 million by mid-June.
Then on June 21, Gray Davis made a huge political mistake: In an effort to stanch the state's bleeding budget, he issued an executive order hiking the state's vehicle license fee. Vehicle registration in California was already among the most expensive in the nation. The governor's order tripled the tax, driving the fee to register a new $25,000 car, for example, from $162 to $498.
Californians were outraged. Recall supporters had already been gathering signatures at a steady clip. But after the car-tax hike, circulators reported a big jump in the number of citizens signing.
But while signatures rolled in, partisanship threatened to trump the state constitution. Recall supporters wanted all voter signatures verified by early September, forcing Secretary of State Shelley, a Democrat, to call a special election in the fall. Mr. Shelley tried a delay tactic designed to push the election back to March, when it would be consolidated with a Democratic presidential primary, increasing Democratic voter turnout-and Gov. Davis's likelihood of survival.
The California Constitution requires state election officials to maintain a continuous count of recall signatures, and to report them every 30 days. But in late June, Mr. Shelley sent a memo to county voting registrars, telling them they could push back their next signature-verification report from July 23 until August 23. That would move the 80-day window during which Mr. Shelley was required to schedule a special election past November's general elections, forcing a March vote.
But Mr. Kaloogian struck back. On July 10, he filed suit with a California state appeals court, asking that Mr. Shelley be forced to comply with the constitution. On July 18, the court ordered the secretary of state to direct county registrars to verify voter signatures by July 24. But after the court ruled, Mr. Shelley sent registrars a memo saying that the justices' order didn't change anything, and to proceed as previously directed.
But at least one county registrar faxed that memo to Sal Russo, who passed it to Mr. Kaloogian, whose attorneys on July 18 threatened to slap Mr. Shelley with a contempt citation if he didn't direct the registrars to follow the court's order. On July 19, Mr. Shelley saw the light and sent a memo to all 58 registrars: Complete the count by July 23.
Registrars did, but not before Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante surprised even his own party with what some called an 11th-hour power-grab. While the state constitution allows voters to elect a successor in a recall, Lt. Gov. Bustamante said he would not allow them to do so. Instead, he suggested, he would succeed Gov. Davis in the event of a recall, then let an obscure state panel and the California Supreme Court decide what should happen after that.
That sent Sacramento into a tailspin as partisans, lawyers, and advisers on both sides scoured the constitution and formulated opposing arguments. But at a July 24 press conference, Lt. Gov. Bustamante reversed himself, conceding that both the recall and successor questions would appear on the Oct. 7 ballot.
"It's a victory," Mr. Kaloogian told WORLD following the press conference. "A total victory."