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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Calif. Gov. Davis Faces Recall Effort

Aired June 17, 2003 - 19:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, an unusual election campaign has begun in California. It's unusual in that its goal is to un-elect the governor, and unusual in that the governor was re-elected seven months ago.
Still, the Recall Gray Campaign claims more than 800,000 signatures so far. That's what they claim. If they succeed, Governor Davis may be up for re-election for the second time in just two years.

CNN political analyst Bill Schneider fills us in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLIICAL ANALYST: Seven months ago, California voters re-elected their governor. Now they may be about to say, "Never mind."

Governor Gray Davis is facing a recall campaign. Supporters say they're close to getting the 900,000 signatures needed to force a new vote. And most California voters say they'd vote to kick him out.

How did things fall apart so quickly for Davis?

The state faces an alarming $38 billion budget deficit. But a lot of states are facing deficits. And Davis is a Democrat in a strongly Democratic state. Davis beat a weak Republican last fall. But if there's a recall election, he'll be running against himself and he could lose, because in politics, you have to have a base. Those are the people who are with you when you get in trouble.

Bill Clinton got in plenty of trouble, but his base stood by him. Davis doesn't have that kind of base. He doesn't have a personal relationship with California voters.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ACTOR: This is really embarrassing. I just forgot the name of our state governor's name. But I know that you will help me recall him.

SCHNEIDER: That's Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who may end up as Davis's successor, because if there is a recall, Californians will vote for a new governor at the same time.

It's easy to get your name on the ballot. There are no primaries, and whoever gets the most votes takes office immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Almost 7 million people voted in the last governor's race. So seven months later we're now going to have 900,000 undo those results? That is not democracy. That is anarchy.

SCHNEIDER: No, it's California. A state where anybody can become a star? No. A state where anybody can become governor.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, not surprisingly, the recall effort has its opponents. Sal Russo is chief strategist for the recall committee. Kathy Kneer is president of Planned Parenthood of California. She is here tonight representing a group called Taxpayers Against the Governor's Recall. They both join me from San Francisco.

Appreciate you joining us.

Kathy, let me start off with you. Why do you think Governor Davis should not be recalled?

KATHY KNEER, TAXPAYERS AGAINST THE GOVERNOR'S RECALL: Governor Davis won an election, open, free, fair election in November and he deserves to fill out his terms.

COOPER: And what do you think is behind this recall effort?

KNEER: What's behind it is basically sour grapes on one hand. And in addition, we have Darryl Issa (ph), who is running a stealth campaign that -- his real agenda is to take away women's reproductive rights in California and voters need to be aware of that.

COOPER: OK, you're referring to a Congressman out of San Diego.

Sal Russo, is that true? Is this just an effort by this Congressman who has been giving a lot of money to this effort?

SAL RUSSO, CHIEF STRATEGIST, RECALL GRAY DAVIS COMM.: No, it doesn't have anything to do with anybody other than Gray Davis. Gray Davis has been a failed governor. And what's really enraged Californians is that during the last campaign he represented that he had the budget under control. And then a mere two weeks later, he announced that we had a $35 billion budget deficit. He turned a $12 billion surplus into a $35 billion deficit, which we now know $38 billion.

Now I think voters are so enraged since 1911 when we got a recall, we're actually going to get a recall on the ballot and recall an incumbent governor.

COOPER: OK, let me just jump in here. First of all, I misspoke. You're both in Sacramento. I apologize. I said were you in San Francisco. Obviously not the case.

Kathy, let me -- you know, the proponents of this, who are for the recall, say they've got about 800,000 signatures. They say there's a groundswell of popular support for this. Do you believe that? KNEER: No, I don't and there is no evidence to support that. In fact, they've actually submitted very few and they're not submitting -- they're not opening their records for public review or independent scrutiny at this point.

You know, if they had that many signatures why would they be running radio ads asking for more signatures? They're trying to convince the public that there is an overwhelming groundswell and there is not. There are certainly people who are unhappy with the governor and those who would even go so far to say they would vote against a recall.

COOPER: Sal...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let me just jump in. Sal, how do you respond to that? She is saying there is not an overwhelming groundswell.

RUSSO: Well, I think every public poll and every private poll shows this governor to be the most unpopular governor in California history. I mean, his poll numbers are weaker today than President Nixon's were on the day he resigned from office. So we've never seen a governor this low.

But on the point of our signatures...

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSO: Let me answer your question on the signatures.

We have turned into the county's 430,000 signatures as of yesterday. We have over 800,000, and we've had the press traipsing through our office looking at our records on a daily basis. So we do have the 800,000. We're gathering signatures at the rate of 150,000 a week. And by the Fourth of July, it will truly be Independence From Gray Davis Day.

COOPER: OK, let me jump in here -- let me -- let me play this ad. There's a radio ad that's playing. We're going to playing right here.

This is an ad in favor of the recall and it mentions California's lieutenant governor. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Democrat Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante says Gray Davis' policy of Draconian cuts to our community college system is short-sighted and shows no vision.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: Now Sal, opponents of the recall say that this ad is misleading, that it implies that lieutenant governor favors a recall. Your opinion? RUSSO: No, it wasn't intended to do that at all. What it was to say was that Democrats are equally unhappy. A number of Democrats have come forward and have supported the recall. And even today, Governor Jerry Brown, who Gray Davis was his chief of staff when he was governor, has called on the governor to step down and resign in the face of this recall.

COOPER: All right.

RUSSO: So his Democrat support is evaporating before his very eyes.

COOPER: All right. Kathy, you said this is really a campaign by this Congressman out of San Diego to become the governor, to usurp the governor. There are a lot of other people who are interested in possibly running. Arnold Schwarzenegger for one, some people even talking about Condoleezza Rice, Dianne Feinstein. There seems to be some, you know, legitimate people out there who have a gripe and want to run.

KNEER: Well, for the record, Dianne Feinstein, in fact, has called against the recall. She does not support the recall at all and she will not be a candidate.

In addition, you're looking at Republican candidates who see the recall as a way to use the special election, when there's a lower turnout, as a way of trying to sneak past the voters and...

COOPER: But Kathy, are you -- do you deny there is a legitimate...

KNEER: Bill Simon failed in November.

COOPER: Excuse me. Kathy, do you -- Kathy, do you agree or do you -- will you agree at all that there is a legitimate gripe against the governor of California and that there are people -- you know, people who are not necessarily supportive of this Congressman out of San Diego, but who really want change and feel this is the best way to do it?

KNEER: I think there are people who are unhappy with the budget that the governor's presented but there's a process by which we work out those disagreements. And it's called the state legislative budget process. It's what we elect the assembly and Senate members to do.

And that's what needs to happen. That's the way we solve the budget crisis. We don't solve it by putting forward a recall on a pretext -- a pretext that this is about the budget when it's not.

COOPER: All right. We're going to...

KNEER: It's about taking away the woman's right to choose. And Darryl Issa wants to do that.

COOPER: All right. Well, the deadline is in July. We're going to see if all the petitions are signed, if you get the necessary amount of signatures.

Sal Russo, Kathy Kneer, appreciate you joining us. Both of you.

KNEER: Thank you.

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