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Calif. voters blame Gov. Davis, but for too much?

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 27, 2003

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Backers of the drive to recall Gov. Gray Davis blame the Democrat for everything from California's economic downturn to its energy crisis. They say he drove jobs from the state and lied about the size of the budget deficit to win re-election in November.

But while analysts say Davis may have been indecisive and slow to act, many believe he is the victim of voter wrath over circumstances at least partly beyond his control.

There's no hard evidence that Davis deliberately misled the public about the budget, and many contend he could have done little to prevent the 2000-01 energy crisis, or to shield the nation's most populous state from an economic funk felt across the country.

"There's an old story in politics: When things are going well the person at the top gets disproportionate credit, and when things are going badly the person at the top gets disproportionate blame," said Larry Gerston, a political scientist at San Jose State University, offering an assessment Davis himself has made in interviews.

Recall proponents reject that view, saying it's reasonable to hold Davis responsible for problems during his tenure.

"All of the state offices are held by Democrats, the Senate and Assembly are firmly in the control of the Democrats, and he is the leader of the party. Anything that's gone wrong, he's at the helm," said Howard Kaloogian, chairman of the Recall Gray Davis Committee.

"He can't blame everybody except himself," Kaloogian said.

But by some accounts, the state's biggest recent problems were not of Davis' making.

The state's economy took a sharp turn downward in 2001, but the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto found in its annual report this year that California has mirrored national job trends since May 2000, when the boom in technology stocks ended.

California's energy crisis, meanwhile, was made possible by a flawed energy deregulation scheme approved by Pete Wilson, Davis' Republican predecessor. And Davis' claims of widespread price-gouging by energy companies have largely been vindicated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Recall proponents contend Davis should have acted faster to solve the energy crisis, and claim he must have foreseen that the deficit would balloon from his pre-election estimate of $23.6-billion to the current estimate of $38.2-billion.

The Republican-led committee Rescue California Recall Gray Davis, which collected more than 1.6-million petition signatures to force Davis to face a recall vote Oct. 7, accuses Davis of "covering up deficits and cooking the books in Enron-type accounting."

No hard evidence has emerged to prove recall proponents' claims that Davis knowingly hid the size of the coming shortfall.

Whatever Davis' degree of responsibility for the state's woes, polls show voters largely side with recall proponents in blaming him.

1,000 gather at state Capitol to support recall

SACRAMENTO - Backers of the drive to oust Gov. Gray Davis had a boisterous celebration at state Capitol on Saturday, as four potential candidates sought to tie up their support in advance of the Oct. 7 recall election.

People in the crowd of around 1,000 waved signs with slogans like "Hey Davis, the fat lady is singing," and "Sav-us from Dav-us." They sang a Davis recall song and drank recall Davis bottled water.

And in a clear sign the focus of the recall has shifted from qualifying for the ballot to installing a new governor, potential candidates circulated in the crowd. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, who funded the recall drive and is the only declared Republican candidate, former GOP gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon and state Sen. Tom McClintock all addressed the group. Absent was perhaps the most talked-about potential GOP candidate, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose aides say he still hasn't made up his mind.

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