SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Gov. Gray Davis (search) will face a recall election on Oct. 7, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante said Thursday.
Bustamante said he had received the certified signatures to force a recall election. The law requires the lieutenant governor to set an election date within 60 to 80 days.
State officials announced Wednesday night that the results of a Republican-led petition drive were sufficient to put a recall election (search) on the ballot, nine months after the Democrat won his second term in office.
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said in a news conference that counties had reported 1.3 million valid petition signatures, well more than the 897,158 required for the recall to make it on the ballot.
"This is the first statewide special election in California's history," Shelley said. "The challenges are profound. This could very well be one of the most important ballots our citizens ever cast."
The gubernatorial recall, which seemed farfetched just months ago, will be the nation's first in 82 years, and the Golden State's first ever after a history of 31 attempts. The last gubernatorial recall election was in 1921, when North Dakota Gov. Lynn J. Frazier was removed from office.
Bustamante would not say whether the ballot will have two parts — the first part asking people to vote yes or no on whether to recall Davis and the second part providing a list of candidates to choose from in the event he is recalled.
Bustamante suggested Wednesday that he may not have the power to set an election to choose a replacement candidate. "The authority I have is to set the date, but not the other," he said. "I don't think I have any other authority."
Instead, he wants the Commission on the Governorship — which apparently hasn't convened since 1979 — to petition the California Supreme Court to clarify whether a replacement vote is appropriate.
Shelley said Wednesday the law makes it clear that both questions should be on the same ballot.
"We believe that it must include the second question, which is the option for other candidates. I've shared with Mr. Bustamante our point."
But the possibility that a replacement vote won't take place leaves Bustamante in the governor's seat — at least temporarily — because the state Constitution calls for the lieutenant governor to assume the governorship in the event of a vacancy.
If a replacement vote is held, Davis would be replaced by the candidate with a plurality of votes, meaning a candidate in a large field could be elected governor with a relatively small percentage of the overall vote.
With just 75 days to election, potential candidates must now decided whether to take a shot at the governor's seat. Candidates must declare they plan to run a minimum of 59 days before the election.
So far, just two candidates have said they will run — California Rep. Darrell Issa (search), who funded the recall campaign, and the Green Party's Peter Camejo (search), who ran for governor in November.
Issa, who put $1.7 million into the recall effort, planned to return from Washington earlier than expected, either on Thursday or Friday, to formally enter the race, his spokesman said.
Issa said he expected the governor to be recalled "by a substantial margin."
"The only thing that's in doubt is who will replace him," said Issa.
Businessman Bill Simon, who lost to Davis in November, said he would announce his plans on Saturday. State Sen. Tom McClintock formed an exploratory committee.
But many are waiting to hear from actor Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), a Republican married to a Kennedy clan Democrat. His spokesman said the actor has not decided if he will run.
The state's Democratic officeholders have closed ranks behind Davis and said they will not run.
A career politician whose popularity has plunged in recent months, Davis branded the Republican-led drive to oust him "a hostile takeover by the right" and said he will fight and win. "In a strange way, this has got my juices flowing," he said Wednesday.
On Thursday, Davis prepared to campaign. He was scheduled to appear at an event with law enforcement officials in Los Angeles and to discuss a series of public events spotlighting programs threatened by proposed Republican budget cuts and the state's lack of a budget deal.
The state has been without a budget since July 1, with Republicans refusing to go along with Democratic-proposed tax hikes to help close the state's $38.2 billion budget deficit.
Davis allies appealed to the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to block the recall from making the ballot, alleging illegal signature gathering by recall backers. The court did not take immediate action, but a spokeswoman said the justices were considering the case on an expedited basis.
The signatures were validated after counties hand-checked a sample of them against voter rolls. Then the secretary of state used a formula to extrapolate the total number of valid signatures received.
Some experts thought the legal fight might at least delay certification long enough that Bustamante could consolidate the election with the state's March presidential primary, when a heavy Democratic turnout could help Davis.
That would save the state the $30 million to $35 million cost of holding a special election, but opponents say it would also be timed to bring more Democrats to the polls, since that is the competitive primary.
At least one voter said she opposed the recall because of the cost and the small turnout that would be expected during a special election.
"I think it's a waste of time and money," said Los Angeles school district employee Laura Chardiet, 40. "Why should such a small portion of the population be able to overturn the vote of so many?"
But recent polls show that Davis would lose in a recall, and many say they are looking forward to a new vote.
"He really screwed things up. So let's see what the Republicans can do," said Dominic Pepe, a 59-year-old semi-retired engineer from the Los Angeles area. "The deficit is a disgrace, and he failed to deal with the energy crisis. I just want to see him go."
Although he was elected to his first term in 1998 by a landslide, Davis' standing slipped during California's energy crisis of 2000-01. A budget crisis further eroded his popularity and he won re-election by just 5 points in November over Simon, a political novice.
This year's $38.2 billion budget deficit has already caused the state's car tax to triple, and Davis' approval rating has plummeted further.
With his approval ratings hovering in the low 20s, Davis acknowledged Wednesday that he has not "done everything perfect," but predicted he will withstand the recall.
"Remember, there's a lot more people willing to vote against the recall than there are who think I'm doing a good job," Davis said. "If you look at those voters, they say, 'It's not fair to blame this on the governor.' It's that sense of fairness that I think will carry the day."
An experienced and often aggressive campaigner, Davis said that in recent days he had become energized by the prospect of taking on Republicans in the recall.
"My political obituary has been written at least once a year. The voters, however, have responded different and have put me in office because they have supported what I've done," he said.
Thirty-one previous attempts to recall California governors had failed to reach the ballot.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.