Cruz Bustamante it is. Or should be, if not for the "giggle factor" that might propel a Jesse Ventura wannabe into management of the world's sixth-largest economy.
Even if one accepts the false assumption of the recall -- that California's governor, reelected by a clear majority less than a year ago, is suddenly unfit to govern -- then the logical and fair alternative is to replace him with the lieutenant governor, who was selected by the voters for just that purpose.
Bustamante has the training, experience and track record required to work with the Legislature to produce a budget come January. Contrast this with the GOP's muscleman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who admits he finds the budget process baffling and doesn't plan to pull in his financial experts to study it until after the election -- a couple of months before a new one is due. As the Democratic state Senate leader John Burton (D-San Francisco) told me over the weekend, "I hope those will not be the same trusted accountants responsible for the debacle of Enron and so many other companies."
The giggle factor, for a state that's survived the contrived "energy crisis" as well as the dot-com crash and a sick national economy, is that for some it sounds like a fun diversion to make the old Terminator our new Governator.
Running the excruciatingly complex California government is serious business, however. That was acknowledged even by former actor Ronald Reagan, who spent years familiarizing himself with the state government's workings before announcing his 1966 campaign for governor. I interviewed him at the time, and there was no question of his being prepared.
Reagan came to grips with economic reality quickly, as Lou Cannon, Reagan's definitive biographer, pointed out in the New York Times: "In the first week of his governorship Mr. Reagan proposed a $1-billion tax increase, then the largest tax hike ever sponsored by any governor of any state." And, Cannon noted, it was mostly aimed at banks and corporations.
Burton, a young assemblyman in those days, recalled Reagan's comment that his feet were set in concrete on no new taxes, and how he then had to ruefully admit as he raised taxes that the concrete was cracking around him. The same was true for Republican governors George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson, both of whom raised taxes substantially.
That is Schwarzenegger's fate should he win, Burton said. "There's no chance at all to balance the budget or have a budget without new revenue, and if Schwarzenegger sticks to his commitment to not cut education, including higher ed, then he has no chance of having a budget. It wouldn't do much for his hero image if he starts taking away $75 from aged, blind and disabled people -- and there's very little money he could get out of single mothers with young children."
Certainly one of Schwarzenegger's economic advisors, Warren E. Buffett, understands all this, but will he be writing the actor's lines? He hasn't so far. Schwarzenegger is betraying the public trust -- and sounding like a typical I'll-do-anything-to-win politician -- when he insists that Californians are overtaxed and promises to alleviate that condition without cutting any programs.
If he wins, Schwarzenegger will have to raise taxes, or his promise to improve the lives of citizens will ring as hollow as the initiative he pushed through on last year's ballot. In his one previous public foray into politics, Schwarzenegger helped pass an initiative for after-school programs that failed to provide funding and therefore was a nonstarter.
Schwarzenegger is arrogant enough to suggest that he can solve the budget shortfall by mouthing a few lines from action flicks. In the real world, every program turns out to be sacrosanct to the very voters now clamoring for a recall; all but a measly 4 percent of the state's general fund expenditures are allocated to education, healthcare, the courts and prisons. Where is the fat in K-12 education or emergency-room care that Schwarzenegger will terminate? Will he cut the prison population?
Burton relishes the thought of going one-on-one in Sacramento against an actor shorn of his Hollywood props. But as Burton pointed out, for Californians facing real problems, politics is not a game, making it crucial that we defeat the recall -- or failing that, elect Bustamante.
That is the only way to stop the cynical right-wing Republicans who control the party. They are willing to swallow Schwarzenegger's pro-choice position and other liberal social views in their zeal to seize the statehouse, which they failed to win in the last election.