California recall bid succeeds
Governor slams recall financier Darrell Issa
SACRAMENTO, California (CNN) -- The petition drive to recall Gov. Gray Davis has gathered enough valid signatures to force an election, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said Wednesday evening.
Election officials from the state's 58 counties reported more than 1.3 million valid signatures, more than the 897,158 needed to trigger the first recall of a governor in California history, said Shelley, who is responsible for administering the recall.
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante must now schedule a recall election in the next 60 to 80 days.
Before the result was announced Democrat Gray Davis on Wednesday attacked the GOP-led effort as a "hostile takeover by the right" and warned that ousting him would "slam [the state] into reverse."
"I said that if the recall got serious, I would get serious," Davis told CNN's Judy Woodruff during an interview in his Sacramento office. "This election is not about changing governors, it's about changing direction, and I believe the voters of California are going to opt for a progressive agenda, not a conservative agenda."
An 11th-hour effort to block certification of the recall election against Davis failed Wednesday afternoon, when a California state appellate court refused to issue a temporary restraining order in a lawsuit brought by pro-Davis forces.
Paul Kiesel, an attorney for Taxpayers Against the Recall, said he would appeal to the California Supreme Court to stop Shelley from certifying the recall election.
Recall supporters had to gather at least 897,158 -- or 12 percent of the total votes cast for governor in 2002 -- to trigger the recall.
During the interview, Davis slammed U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, his only announced GOP challenger and a chief financier of the recall effort known as "Rescue California." The governor said Issa is pushing for a fall election, which will cost the financially strapped state roughly $35 million.
"This would not happen without Darrell Issa," Davis said. "Darrell Issa wanted to get it on the ballot in the fall so he wouldn't have to give up his congressional seat. If this election was consolidated with the March 2 presidential primary, it would save us $35 million. Instead, this election will cost us $35 million so that Darrell Issa can get a free ride."
In response, Issa told CNN, "I wanted this race as soon as possible because the people of California know that Gray Davis created the deficit; Gray Davis tried to cover it up -- successfully covered it up in the last election -- now that they know he lied, they also have begun to realize he has no fix for the problem. So if you create a problem, lie about a problem and have no fix for a problem, it's time for you to go as soon as possible."
The state is facing a $38 billion deficit and Davis' approval rating has tumbled to 21 percent.
Bustamante has said he would set the date for the recall election within 24 hours of Shelley's certification.
What follows Bustamante's announcement is sure to be a dizzying blend of political and legal mayhem. Republican sources say GOP efforts to unite behind one candidate have faltered, and that both conservative businessman Bill Simon -- who lost to Davis last November -- and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger plan to join Issa in the race. It's unclear whether Richard Riordan, the former Los Angeles mayor, will run.
Davis said he has already drawn strong support from top Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who also faced a recall effort when she was mayor of San Francisco; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, both of whom joined Davis for a rally in San Francisco last weekend.
"Democrats understand that this is a hostile takeover by the right," the governor said. "The voters have a right to have another election, and I will present my credentials. But I think at the end of the day, they will allow the state to go in the direction that I'm trying to lead it, not to slam it into reverse."
Davis has already come out fighting, rallying his party's base in local strongholds and among minority groups. But he has yet to brandish his ace-in-the-hole: former President Bill Clinton, whom Democrats say is itching to stump for the embattled governor or, more accurately, to attack his Republican opponents.
If Clinton does so, Democrats say he'll frame the debate as another GOP-led attempt to unseat -- in his case, impeach -- a duly elected chief executive.
Shelley told CNN: "Our guiding light is what's fair, what's appropriate and what's legal. But it's all new. There's never been a special [recall] election in the state of California. These are very difficult waters to move through. Our job isn't to make it go quickly or slowly. It's to make it go fairly and accurately."
-- Written by CNN Political Editor John Mercurio in Washington.