July 9: Who Wants To Inherit California's Budget Mess?

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This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, July 9, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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TONY SNOW, GUEST HOST: Opponents of California's Governor Gray Davis (search) say they've gathered enough signatures for a recall vote. But gathering signatures is one thing and having voters show up to vote him out of office is another. Who would want to inherit a budget mess, $38 billion deficit, larger than the deficits of the other 49 states combined?

Joining me to discuss the matter, Susan Estrich (search), University of Southern California law professor, former Democratic strategist and now, a FOX News contributor.

Susan, first let's talk about all the various scenarios. No. 1, do you think, as Republicans are saying, that they're going to have enough signatures to get this thing on the ballot?

SUSAN ESTRICH, LAW PROFESSOR, USC: Well, they claim they have enough signatures, but the next step is all the county clerks around the state have to sample the signatures and certify them.

And the question is A, how long that will take, will they do it in time to make a fall ballot? And B, what will the Democrats do in terms of challenges? I'm hearing lots of legal challenges in the works. There's noise on the street about the fact that the statute says that everybody who collects signatures is supposed to be a registered voter and everybody knows in this state that you pay for signatures. So there's talk about legal challenges.

So there's a lot of talk on all sides about how long this process of sampling is going to take, whether some of the counties where you have got Democrats as the county clerks, are going to drag their heels or not. Of course everybody is saying they are not going to drag their heels. And whether it will be done in time for a fall ballot, which is thought to help Republicans.

SNOW: Yes. The thinking is you get a vote in November it helps Republicans and you can push it off till next March, it probably helps Democrats.

Let me ask another question. There's been speculation that various Democrats would stand for election. That doesn't seem very likely to me for simple the reason suppose the recall fails and somebody has put -- some Democrats has put him or herself up for as a possible contestant or a replacement for Gray Davis. He's not going to forget that, is he?

ESTRICH: Well, here's the game, all right? You know this is only the governorship of the biggest state in the country. Now, what Davis is trying to do is keep all Democrats off the ballot to the set this up, which it is, as something being led by basically, right wing Republicans. His line is this is Darrel Issa, the car alarm guy who got arrested for car theft himself. That's the line coming ought of Democrats and he's funding this and it's undemocratic and it's all the Republicans.

The problem for Democrats is that if 51 percent of the people are for the recall, which is the latest -- you know, latest poll, and it does make the ballot and there's no Democrat on the ballot and it passes, then we're going to end up the next day with a Republican governor. And if you have got three or four Republicans running, they're talking Issa, Arnold Schwarzenegger, maybe former Republican Mayor Dick Reardon, my old friend and book club colleague, then any Democrat could get the most votes.

So does a credible Democrat step forward at the last minute? That's what the talk is. Dianne Feinstein wins every poll. Up till now she says no go, but everybody says the dance here is you lie till the last moment and then maybe somebody steps forward.

SNOW: OK. When would the last moment be?

ESTRICH: Well, nobody knows for sure, you see, because until this thing is certified and a date is set, then a filing deadline is set. The actual filing requirements on this one are incredibly easy. The threshold is really low. So you are likely to get a lot of candidates, but this depends on what the secretary of state has to say. And right now all he's saying is I'm waiting for these county clerks to count their ballots. I'm waiting for the lawyers for both sides to go to court to say I want to be on the ballot and I want to be off the ballot.

Meanwhile, national Republicans are starting to wake up to the fact that if they succeed here they wake up the next day, their guy is governor of California and then everybody is going to blame them for the mess in this state.

SNOW: Well, let me ask you, though, about the recall prospects. You just cited a poll in "The Los Angeles Times" that said 51 percent support a recall.


SNOW: If memory serves me right, when School Choice was on the ballot a few years ago, early on it was getting 70 percent or something. A series of negative campaigns knocked it down and it got flattened at the polls. Gray Davis is a guy who is expert at raising tens of millions of bucks. I mean, isn't it likely that he's going to go after one or all of the Republican contenders and make it possible, maybe even likely, that he would survive the recall?

ESTRICH: Well, look, this is a guy that fights hard and who often wins. And the Republicans last week passed a budget that cut off funds for -- let's see, my two favorites, where they cut off funds for food for Seeing Eye dogs and burial for foster children. Now, if you don't think that Gray Davis is going to go to town on that one, you haven't seen nothing. He is going to try to eat Issa for lunch on those car theft convictions, Arnold, you know the "Terminator," he's going to go after. He's going to go after all of them.

Having said all that, if there's a credible Democrat -- see here's the dance, if there's a credible Democrat, it makes it easier to vote the other way. So it remains to be seen. He's going to fight hard. It depends on where the state is.

But he's a really unpopular guy. This is a guy whose favorability rating is at, I don't know, like at 20 percent. And the only reason he won last time around is because he spent $10 million to defeat the Republican, who should have beat him, Dick Reardon. He went into the Republican primary and messed around there. So, there's a lot of ill will toward Gray Davis out here. And if anybody could be recalled, it's probably him.

SNOW: All right, Susan Estrich. Thanks so much.

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