Fisher Investments Presents: Incurious Press; Ukraine on the Brain; Greener Pastures

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Good morning, it’s Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. Sixteen years ago today, California voters went to the polls to face a question few chief executives would want decided by an up-or-down vote during a time the statewide economy was in the tank. California’s experiment in direct democracy, ushered in as a Progressive Era reform in 1911, was about to claim its first governor.

Gray Davis was certainly prepared for the job he’d won in 1998. Raised in a Republican family in Southern California, he graduated from Stanford University, where he was on the golf team, before attending law school at Columbia. He also served as a U.S. Army captain in Vietnam, an experience that helped him become a Democrat. Handsome and suave, Davis even had a Hollywood connection: As a young man he had a romantic interlude in Hawaii with future star Cybill Shepherd, who years later would pronounce him “a good kisser.”

As his career progressed, Davis earned a reputation as a thoughtful policy wonk who served as chief of staff for Jerry Brown in Sacramento -- during Brown’s first two-term stint as governor -- an assemblyman in the legislature, state controller, and lieutenant governor. Not particularly warm and fuzzy, Davis was nonetheless dedicated to public service and to keeping the Democratic Party from becoming too kooky. None of it was enough, as we’ll see in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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The Curious Case of the Incurious Press. Frank Miele argues that many reporters eager to probe allegations of Trump wrongdoing have shown no interest in investigating the Bidens’ roles in Ukraine and China.

Amid Ukraine Uproar, Pence Closes Ranks With Trump. Phil Wegmann has the story.

Trump’s Economic Message Gets Scant Play on TV News. Kalev Leetaru lays out the numbers.

Free Higher Education Support Is Age- and Party-Based. Phil digs into findings from the recent RealClear Opinion Research poll.

Our K-12 Education System Is Flawed -- by Design. Ali Della Volpe responds to the poll findings with reflections on her time teaching in a low-income school.

The Sense and Sensibility of George Will. Jonathan N. Badger reviews the longtime columnist and commentator’s latest book.

Why Trump Has Ukraine on the Brain. In RealClearInvestigations, Lee Smith reports that Ukraine has always figured heavily in the president's opponents’ years-long campaign against him.

Repeal the Medical Device Tax. In RealClearPolicy, Scott Whitaker asserts that the tax kills jobs and slows medical progress.

The Truth Behind Medical Device Litigation Commercials. In RealClearHealth, Timothy H. Hill warns that lawyers eager for a payday are tricking patients into surgery to remove devices.

What Gender Identity Court Case Means for Christians. In RealClearReligion, Dave Pivonka outlines the issues involved in a case before the Supreme Court this week.

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When California voters went to the polls on Oct. 7, 2003, they faced a bifurcated ballot. The first question was whether to recall Gov. Gray Davis. The second was to choose his potential replacement from among 135 gubernatorial wannabes who had secured the requisite number of signatures to have their name placed on the ballot.

The long roster of candidates was led by Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, film star Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican state Sen. (and now U.S. Congressman) Tom McClintock, and Green Party leader Peter Camejo. Those contenders were joined by a colorful collection of personalities and pols that included Arianna Huffington, Peter Ueberroth, Larry Flynt, Gary Coleman, Bill Simon, and a Native American artist with the evocative name David Laughing Horse Robinson -- none of whom received even 1% of the vote.

In the first decision voters made that day, Davis was rejected by nearly 1 million votes. California’s economy was reeling in the wake of the dot-com bubble burst and the state’s budget was a mess. Davis had exacerbated the problems with spending that proved unsustainable. Voters also faulted the governor for his handling of an electricity crisis earlier in the decade, and for his own fundraising practices during his 2002 reelection campaign.

The governor knew that Californians were restive. He also realized that his reserved personality made him an easy foil for voters’ frustration. As he faced the recall, Davis told me that people didn’t need “to do backflips of joy into the voting booth” -- they just had to walk in there and pull the lever next to his name.

Some 4 million citizens did exactly that, but another 4,976,274 voted thumbs-down, and Gray Davis’ governorship was over. For his replacement, Schwarzenegger won, of course, garnering nearly as many votes as the other 134 candidates combined.

The "Governator" left office at the beginning of 2011 amid a bursting housing bubble, steep unemployment in California, and yet another budget crisis in Sacramento. His job approval ratings upon his departure were around 23%. The budget shortfall he left to once-and-future Gov. Jerry Brown was close to $28 billion.

I’ve noticed in recent days that recall rumblings have been heard about the current governor, Gavin Newsom. That seems odd, but it reminded me that in the 1960s my own grandmother circulated petitions seeking signatures to have Ronald Reagan recalled. I’ve never asked my father about this, but it must have been a bit awkward because Dad was covering Reagan for the San Jose Mercury News at the time.

But as one Southern California pilgrim sang, sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. Despite his unpopularity, Arnold Schwarzenegger (another foreigner who immigrated to the Golden State) left behind a legacy of environmental and political reforms that may make it easier for future lawmakers and governors to get a handle on the state’s problems. These good-government reforms ranged from changing the way redistricting is handled to passing a $40 billion bond measure to help restore the state’s aging infrastructure.

“For the next decade or two,” former California legislator James Brulte predicted, “politicians of both parties will be going to ribbon-cuttings and groundbreakings, taking credit for themselves for initiatives that began under Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

That seems right. But Brulte’s larger point -- that our political history is yet to be written -- is worth remembering whenever politics and government is the subject. For one thing, it stands in rebuke to the commentators and partisan pols who authoritatively rendered harsh real-time judgments on George W. Bush’s place in history, the effects of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and even the long-term effects of the current president. Some of the critics who once haughtily dismissed Bush as “the worst president in history” now grow nostalgic and misty-eyed at the mere mention of the man’s name.

In other words, things can always get worse. They can get better, too. 

Carl M. Cannon  
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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