John Seiler: Gray Davis never should have been recalled

As only he can, former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently enthused before a crowd at the Sacramento Press Club about the 20th anniversary of him becoming governor. That occurred after the recall of Gov. Gray Davis in Oct. 2003. 

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Schwarzenegger’s charisma and immense popularity propelled him to victory. He met three times with the Orange County Register’s editorial board and was as charming as you see on TV. Each time in the large foyer of the Register building a couple hundred employees crowded in to see him as he entered with his entourage.

“It was the best seven years of my life, without a doubt,” Schwarzenegger said at the Sacramento shindig. “People I talked to said Sacramento doesn’t work. I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do, and I explained it to the people.” 

He started out with two good years of “blowing up the boxes” of government bureaucracy, cutting spending and canceling Davis’ unconstitutional car-tax increase. Unfortunately, he reversed his original vision and, thanks to his misrule, the state works less well than ever.

I now regret supporting the recall in Register editorials. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Davis governed badly, for example botching the 2000-01 energy crisis.

But it would have been better to just let him ride out three more years. Republicans could have primed themselves to win the governorship the normal way in 2006. 

Perhaps then-state Sen. Tom McClintock, now a U.S. representative and a fiscal hawk, would have won. 

Indeed, if Schwarzenegger had not butted in, McClintock might have won the 2003 recall replacement election. Instead, he garnered 13% to Schwarzenegger’s 49%. In second place was Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who ran on the slogan, “No on Recall, Yes on Bustamante.” It was a weird year.

The key moment came after his reform initiatives lost in the special election Schwarzenegger called for Nov. 8, 2005. He announced, “The people have spoken.” Actually, it was attack ads funded by public-employee unions that had spoken, again. 

He turned sharply left. The spending restraint was gone, the general fund rising an incredible 25% in the next two years. 

At his smoking tent outside the Capitol, he thought he could negotiate with legislative Democrats like he did Hollywood executives. Instead, Senate President John Burton and other Old Bulls rolled him like a neophyte at a high-stakes poker game.

He passed two horrible pieces of legislation I’ve attacked at the time and ever since: Senate Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006; and Senate Bill 375 in 2008, which restricted housing construction. My colleague Susan Shelley described the results in these pages, “AB32 has added extra costs to manufacturing and energy production in California, and SB375 has limited construction of new homes in affordable areas by trying to contain ‘sprawl’ and reduce driving…. Combined, these have driven home prices out of reach, which further discourages employers from locating here.”

Schwarzenegger still brags about these bills, featuring a picture of his 2006 AB 32 signing ceremony online at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute. 

At the recent Sacramento shindig, he lamented, “The only thing I’m interested in is president, and I can’t.” That’s not just a quip. His Oval Office dreams are detailed in Ian Halpern’s 2010 biography, “Governator: From Muscle Beach to His Quest for the White House, the Improbable Rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger.” He thought he could amend the Constitution to allow foreign-born candidates.

Except an amendment needs two-thirds approval from the Senate, most of whose members are hankering for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue themselves and wouldn’t want the competition.

Schwarzenegger’s tenure also ended with his stature “terminated.” The overspending caught up with him when the subprime recession hit, budget deficits ballooned and he increased taxes a record $13 billion in 2009. He left office commuting the murder sentence of the son of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, enraging the victim’s family. 

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register


  1. John’s articles on Ukraine are nothing but rehashed Kremlin propaganda, but this one on Schwarzenegger is absolutely correct. Schwarzenegger terminated California.

  2. I served in state legislature during that time and whole heartedly agree. That series of events and his principle-less leadership ruined the state, completely destroyed the voice of a very needed loyal opposition and we have never recovered. He ran as a conservative and then proceeded to marginalize and eclipse every conservative principle he claimed to have supported.

    You are so right. He thought when he lost the initiatives, the “people” had spoken, and made an extremely hard left turn from that point forward and never looked back.

    He was wrong. It wasn’t the people who had spoken, it was the unions that had spoken and they ran over his self assumed popularity.

    To this day it breaks my heart.

  3. Treva Bennett says

    Agreed, we should never have recalled Davis. I worked like a dog to do it. I was never ever keen on Arnold. He did impress some of the Pooh bahs though. I was always for Tom McClintock. Worked hard for him. Above and beyond. All for naught. One thing about Arnold he’ll always have a fan. Himself. It’s no use to cry over spilt milk so my Gram taught me. I am however glad John Sieler wrote the article as a reminder of being a bit more cautious as to whom we choose to represent us. We have so many unqualified people representing us. We wonder why things are so botched. We must do a better job vetting these people, please.

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