Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, swept into office five years ago when then-Gov. Gray Davis was recalled during another state fiscal crisis, became the target Monday of a recall effort by the state's powerful prison guards' union.
The well-funded California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which has clashed with the actor-turned-governor in the past, completed a "petition of intent" to recall Schwarzenegger, charging that his "catastrophic leadership failings" have left the state in far worse shape than before his election.
The union's petition drive is the latest political challenge for Schwarzenegger, who faces political, legal and administrative battles over his efforts to close a $17.2 billion budget gap and enact a budget that is now 71 days late, a state record.
California's fiscal crisis and budget mess are a replay of the challenges that led to the 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis and the election of Schwarzenegger. A few months before the recall election, the state had set a new record for a late budget, 67 days, when Davis signed the spending plan Sept. 5.
This year, Schwarzenegger has yet to broker a deal with the Democratic-controlled Legislature. On Monday, a Republican budget was debated on the floor of the state Senate, but the measure failed by a 21-13 vote ,when no Democrat voted for the plan.
Officials from the prison guards' union planned to deliver the recall petition to Schwarzenegger's office by this morning. The governor has seven days to respond, after which the union will file the petition with the secretary of state to begin a signature drive for a special recall election, said Lance Corcoran, a spokesman for the union.
The recall drive would need 1,041,530 valid signatures to qualify for a statewide ballot.
Adam Mendelsohn, a senior adviser to Schwarzenegger, charged in a written statement that the union is trying to use intimidation to "extract a huge pay raise out of the Legislature and the governor."
Members of the prison guard's union have been working without a long-term contract since 2006. Last year, when state lawmakers tried to approve a pay raise for prison guards near the end of the legislative session, the governor called the move a backroom deal.
But Corcoran said the recall drive is not about getting a new contract.
"This failed administration is finally being held accountable," he said, adding that the governor has not lived up to his promises and has mismanaged the state's finances so badly that vital services are being threatened.
Corcoran also blasted the governor for not exempting the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from his executive order to reduce state worker pay to the federal minimum wage of $6.55 an hour until a budget is enacted, as a cash-saving measure.
While a few agencies, including the California Highway Patrol, received exemptions for the entire organization, the state prison agency was left on a case-by-case basis.
"They left us off," Corcoran said. "When it gets down to it, that gets personal."
But trying to remove Schwarzenegger might be more difficult than the recall of Davis in 2003, one Sacramento pundit said.
While Schwarzenegger's approval ratings have plummeted this year, voters still consider him to be an "instrument of change that gets little cooperation from the Legislature," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Cal State Sacramento.
In addition, the fact that the recall effort is being led by a powerful labor union that is having trouble negotiating a long-term contract with the administration will also make it difficult to find voter support, she said.
"But they have a ton of money, and if they put their full force and effort into this, they can cause a lot of harm," O'Connor said.
The union, with more than 30,000 members, is among the most powerful in the state with about $4.4 million in the coffers of half a dozen campaign committees that it controls.
Ted Costa, a taxpayers' advocate who led the recall petition against Davis in 2003, said that with the prison guard union's deep pockets, it won't be too difficult to place a recall measure on the ballot.
"I would say they are about $1.5 million to $2 million away from being able to do it," he said.
Corcoran said the union will be pushing full-bore.
"CCPOA has never been shy about using all of its resources," he said.
A Tale Of 2 Recalls
2003: Then-Gov. Gray Davis faced a $38.2 billion budget gap. He signed a budget Sept. 5 -- a record 67 days late. A month later, he became the first California governor to be recalled, and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor.
2008: California faces another budget crisis, a $17.2 billion
deficit. Schwarzenegger has not been able to strike a deal with
the Democratic-controlled Legislature. The budget is 71 days
late, a state record.
Here are the steps required to qualify a recall measure for the ballot in California:
Drawing up a petition: Draft a petition, collect a minimum of 65 signatures and deliver the documents to the officer targeted for recall, who has seven days to respond. File the petition to the secretary of state within 10 days of receiving the response.
Qualifying for the ballot: Upon approval, the required number of valid signatures must be gathered within 160 days. The recall election must be held not less than 60 days nor more than 80 days from the date of the certification of sufficient signatures.
Source: California secretary of state
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