The California Governor Recall Election
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The State of California will hold an election on October 7, 2003, to decide whether to recall the governor and to choose the new governor, who would take office if the majority vote to remove the current governor.
Critics say this recall election is plunging California into chaos, but as I sit here in a café writing this, I don't see any folks running down the street screaming. Life goes on as usual. The recall process was in accord with the California constitution, the petitions signed by over a million voters. The election will cost about $35 million at a time when county governments are straining under reduced revenues, but this is stress, not chaos.
Most Californians are not pleased with the performance of the current governor. During his reign, Californians suffered an electricity shortage, with blackouts, and are now stuck with expensive long-term contracts for electricity, with the possibility of future shortages. He has shown little vision or wisdom in handling the state finances. The California bond rating is the lowest grade ever assigned to any U.S. state, raising the cost of borrowing. A crisis such as the current huge State budget deficit is a good opportunity for making fundamental reforms, yet governor Davis has, to my knowledge, not advocated such.
Unfortunately, the method of electing the new governor, if the current one is thrown out of office, is astonishingly undemocratic. Whichever candidate gets the most votes will be governor. There will be many, maybe dozens, of candidates. Candidates need to qualify by August 9, but the requirements to get on the ballot are fairly easy. The next governor will thus be chosen largely by chance, and only a small portion of the voters will have voted for her.
There will surely be a movement to alter California's way of electing a new governor in the event of a recall. The best method, given the mass democracy we practice, is an instant runoff. Voters would indicate a rank of preferences, entering a 1 for the most preferred candidate, a 2 for the next best, and so on. If one does not indicate a rank preference, then the candidate is set at the lowest preference. The election algorithm then successively eliminates those with the lowest preferences until the candidate with the highest overall preferences is left.
The more fundamental problem is the whole structure of how we elect officials. With mass democracy, millions of voters elect some stranger to office, The expense and need to campaign requires fixed-length terms of office. So we get elected dictators; once in office, they wield enormous power over our lives.
It is madness to install some politician who has a pleasing image and wealthy backers to a powerful office for a fixed length of time. It's a holdover from the time of kings. It's probably better to have the people vote for the king once in a while than have him inherit power, but it is still a despotic rule by one governing man and a few dozen legislative representatives. As in Biblical Israel, the people cry for a king to rule over them; then they get high taxes, corruption, restrictions, and crime. Why do we not learn? History tells us that we don't learn much from history, because facts by themselves teach us very little. Facts are stupid things.
To gain insight and understanding into human governance, we need logic as well as facts. Logic teaches us that mass democracy is inherently harmful. Primal man, in the beginning of human history, lived in small groups. A group small enough so that people can meet face to face is the natural and logical foundation for human society. When it comes to government, masses are asses; small is truly beautiful.
Elections for government representatives should take place in tiny local neighborhood voting districts with a population of about a thousand persons. Such a neighborhood cell would be small enough so that those who wish to be on the neighborhood council can, with little cost, meet the voters personally. In a small voting group, there is no need for massive campaign moneys. Special interests have far less clout. The residents have much easier access to their representatives. Moreover, if the voters wish to replace a council member, a petition and recall election can be held at little cost, and only the local voting cell is affected. So the council members are not dictators, and truly represent the people.
Local councils would elect higher-level councils on up to the state legislature, which would then elect the governor, just as in a corporation, the board of directors elects a chief executive officer. The governor could be terminated at any time by the legislature.
A crisis is a good opportunity for fundamental reforms. Yet, Californians are suffering through this fiscal crisis, where basic services are being cut, taxes and fees raised, and yet special interests continue to be privileged. This shows that the current crisis is not so great a disaster as would spur Californians into making serious changes in how the State is governed. Californians will select a new governor with whom they will surely later also be unhappy.
We need a new abolitionist movement to abolish mass democracy and replace it with a true grass-roots democracy, but it seems that must await a far greater future crisis.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2003 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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