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by KEITH EASTHOUSE
The decades-long political war
between liberals and conservatives intensified in the mid-1990s,
when President Clinton earned the undying enmity of Republicans
for repeatedly outdueling House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Bent on
revenge, Republicans -- led by the likes of bare-knuckled Texas
Congressman Tom Delay -- seized their opportunity when Clinton
was reckless enough to fool around with a young female intern
in the Oval Office and then lie about it under oath. Perjury,
claimed Delay and his cohorts, was an impeachable offense.
Of course it wasn't. The fact
that the man occupying the White House tried to hide an extra-marital
affair from the nation in no way threatened the country's constitutional
form of government. But that didn't matter to Republicans. They
saw an opportunity to wound a president they hated, and they
took it. It was a new twist in American politics -- the use of
impeachment as a political weapon.
Fast-forward to December 2000.
The nation is in the throes of a full-fledged political crisis:
a presidential election has been held, and it is so close it's
impossible to say who won. After a ruling by the Florida Supreme
Court that favored Democrats and the Al Gore campaign, the U.S.
Supreme Court stepped in and reversed the lower court's ruling.
By a 5-4 margin, the politically conservative court handed George
W. Bush the presidency -- and damaged its image as a non-partisan
When historians write about
the rise and fall of American democracy, those two events --
the impeachment in 1998 and the 2000 election -- will surely
be seen as turning points. For in both cases, constitutional
principles were sacrificed to political gain.
Democracy is also falling by
the wayside in California in 2003, a year that both in Humboldt
County and statewide is proving to be politically tumultuous.
Gov. Gray Davis, just eight
months after being elected to a second term, is facing a recall
effort that seems to be gaining momentum each day. It is of course
being led -- and funded -- by Republicans, who are using the
budget crisis to scapegoat the governor. Never mind that a recall
would cost taxpayers millions, or that Republicans are trying
to redo the election they lost last year. And never mind that
Davis isn't guilty of the kind of serious misconduct that would
make him subject to a legitimate recall effort. He is unpopular,
and is therefore politically vulnerable. Call it using recall
as a political weapon.
Similar hijinks are going on
here in Humboldt, where political opponents of District Attorney
Paul Gallegos are trying to oust him. Just as with Davis, Gallegos
hasn't committed any egregious acts while in office. Instead,
he simply had the temerity to sue the politically powerful Pacific
Lumber Co. for fraud before he'd even been in office two months,
and thereby became -- in theory -- politically vulnerable. That's
the real reason for the recall, not the ridiculous claim that
Gallegos is soft on crime (he simply hasn't been on the job long
enough for anyone to determine that definitively).
We were encouraged recently
when the Times-Standard editorialized against the recall.
We were also glad to learn that the recall won't be on the November
ballot as not enough signatures have been gathered. But it is
probable that it will come before voters after that. That's regrettable,
not least because a recall election will cost Humboldt taxpayers
an estimated $100,000. It's also unfortunate since the recall
drive is nothing less than an attempt by those who supported
Gallegos' predecessor, Terry Farmer, to undo the results of last
year's election. Let them wait and run a candidate in three years;
that's how the rest of us behave in a democracy.
Meantime, vigilance -- in Humboldt,
the state and across the country -- is needed by those who care
about democracy. This is indeed a war, and so far the power-hungry
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