A Hip Hop Perspective on the Cali Recall

So by now everyone knows what’s been taking place in the Golden State with regards to our Governor, Gray Davis and the historic Recall Battle. Let’s make no mistake, for the most part it’s been a 3 ring circus orchestrated and manipulated by the same group of folks who enjoyed stealing our votes in Florida during the 2000 election. With that being said, let’s also make no mistake about how most folks in Cali feel about Governor Davis. He’s a slime bag and most of what is going on in Cali is really his own doing.

Davis is the type of politician who over the years has developed an all too commonplace strategy to win elections. He goes out of his way to turn people off and make himself and the entire political process extremely unattractive. The way this works is in a state that has more than 40 million people, it becomes very expensive to run a campaign. So what one does is try to identify small pockets of people who you feel are likely to go to the polls and super serve them while simultaneously ignoring or marginalizing larger segments of the population.

In Davis’ case he’s gone out of his way to endear himself to labor unions which are voting against the recall, certain big money special interest groups like the prison guards union [which is the most powerful union in the state] and law enforcement [Remember this is same governor who unceremoniously shot down the Driving While Black legislation a couple of years back].

On the flipside Davis is notorious for ignoring and shuffling off other constituents. He’s the guy who won’t show up for debates and would not do interviews with many in the independent, black and people of color press. I’ve heard story after story from community groups, organizations and independent media outlets that could never get as much as a press release from Davis. He hardly reached out to younger voters [18-34] who ironically are being noted as the major constituents in the Golden State who can flip this election on it’s ear if they go to the polls on October 7th.

When Davis came to ‘the hood’ or barrio it was usually to do a quick photo op at a local church and then he’d bounce and return 4 years later when he was seeking new votes. For many, Davis is misleading because he would support some of the major issues like Affirmative Action. He was against the notorious anti-immigration bill Prop 187. He did a lot of things that won the support of labor. But then you turn around and this same guy would be for the death penalty. Over the years he garnered a ‘bad’ reputation for denying all sorts of non violent offenders parole. He’s was down to give all sorts of money to law enforcement and prisons while letting school’s suffer. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What really got people up in arms was the fact that many saw him as being too slow to move during the energy crisis where Cali got royally screwed by these big energy companies, many of whom donated handsomely to his campaign [Gas is damn near 3 dollars a gallon in some places]. Gas Bills and electric bills have tripled. To top it all off, in an effort to reduce the states 38 billion dollar debt, he went out and tripled vehicle license renewal fees.

During the last gubernatorial election which was 8 months ago, Davis pulled a fast one when it looked like former LA Mayor Richard Riordan was going to give him a major challenge. Riordan is a moderate Republican and was well liked by a lot of folks. So what Davis did, was he started running ads dissing Riordan and supporting his ultra conservative opponent Bill Simon. He did it in such a way that most people thought the ads were actually being run by Bill Simon. Homeboy spent millions of dollars on these ads with the end result being the far right-wing Republican taking Riordan out the race. Davis figured if he manipulated the race and ran against an ultra conservative, he would have a better chance than if he ran up against a moderate Republican like Riordan. For the most part even though Davis is a Democrat he acts like a Republican so most voters would’ve probably voted for Riordan.

So while Davis was manipulating the Republican primary races, at the same time he continued using his strategy of ‘Turning Off’ voters by being elusive and unresponsive to large groups of people. This strategy resulted in California having one of the lowest voter turnouts in its electoral history. Something like 30% bothered going to the polls. It was really bad and really ugly. Voters hated Davis and they hated the ultra-conservative Bill Simon even more so they didn’t bother going to the polls to vote for either man. Davis barely won the election. For the most part, this is how Davis seemed to like things. As I said before he doesn’t seem to want large numbers of people coming to the polls. By keeping them away he doesn’t have to be accountable to them or spend a lot of money trying to reach out to them.

Now this is where all this came back to bite Davis in the ass. Because of last election’s record low voter turn out, the amount of signatures needed to qualify for a recall was also low. The number of signatures needed to recall an elected official is calculated on a percentage of the number of folks who voted in the last election. The ultra conservatives understood this and put together a strategy where they paid a bunch of people to collect the necessary signatures for a recall and played up the fact that no one likes Gray Davis. The end result is now we have this recall with 134 candidates ranging from actor Gary Coleman of Different Strokes, Larry Flint, publisher of Hustler Magazine, former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington and the Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger running for office. It’s been a serious 3 ring circus complete with clowns and lion tamers.


With the Cali recall in full effect, the main face that most of the world has seen belongs to actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. People like his accent, they like his movies and he comes across as a fun loving, charming guy. I run into all sorts of people who don’t follow politics but want a change in California really bad. Many of them are totally gung-ho that Arnold is running. There’s a sense that come October 7th there are going to be a lot of first time voters.

Those of us who follow things a bit more closely say; DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE. Arnold is sham. Behind the engaging smile is a serious team of former politicians backing him who don’t play. They’re hardcore, take no prisoners cats who have a long track record of taking us down the wrong path. Arnold is basically the happy face that we’ll see in front of those dark clouds. Among Arnold’s cronies is former Secretary of State George Schultz who he just added to be part of his economic recovery team.

Schultz served under Ronald Regan and is part of the conservative think tank, the Hoover Institute which supplies all types of advisors to the white house. Say what you want, but with Schultz on board, George W and all his buddies can’t be too far away. For starters, Schultz used to run Bechtel and now sits on their board. This is the same Bechtel company that is cleaning up left and right with nice contract after contract as a result of our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Also on board, chairing Arnold’s campaign is former California Governor Pete Wilson who routinely gets praised by the far right for smashing on the Latino community because he staunchly supported Prop 187 [Anti-Immigration Bill] and Prop 225 [The English only initiative]. Wilson gets praised for helping end Affirmative Action on the UC Campus and later for backing Prop 209 which ended affirmative action in the state.

As one ultra right-wing conservative columnist, David Horowitz wrote; Wilson should be praised for his stance and for being unapologetic. He notes that Wilson was standing on high moral ground when he took those positions and that Arnold, who also supported Prop 187, will stand to gain greatly with Wilson in his corner. On a side note, Pete was one of the architects behind California’s notorious Juvenile crime bill Prop 21.

In a state that is mostly minority, Wilson was seen in many conservative sectors as this governor who managed to keep black and brown folks in line by helping get these troubling bills passed into law. Despite all his talk about being independent and being his own man, Arnold Schwarzenegger is ultimately going to be answering to his team of backers. The entire scenario seems eerily similar to George W bringing all his father’s [Bush sr] old cronies and advisors to the table. If all goes according to plan, Arnold will be the engaging, smiling mouthpiece for a well heeled team of ultra conservative right wingers and their agenda.


One thing to note is that Arnold seems to be playing up his personality as opposed to laying down his position on key issues. I personally have made it a point to call his campaign office everyday before my radio show to see if he has taken a position on Prop 54 which is a controversial, sinister measure being pushed by ‘Uncle Tom’ Ward Connerly. Prop 54 if it passes would prohibit the state of California from collecting any sort of racial data to see if there are any systematic patterns of discrimination based upon race.

Prior to the recall this was one of the most talked about issues in the state. It’s all but disappeared once the recall came around. Hardly any major media outlets have spoken on this initiative which quietly got moved up in the election cycle and got added to the October 7th ballot. Connerly who claims he wants a colorblind society and hence wants to do away with anything pertaining to race, seems to be doing the bidding of his old boss Pete Wilson.

Connerly doesn’t want the police to collect data to see if there’s any truth to the ‘Driving while Black or Brown’ accusations. He doesn’t want data collected to see if there’s a pattern of abuse based around race. He feels such things are based on individual scenarios and not systemic racism.

Connerly doesn’t want racial data collected to see if there’s housing discrimination or educational discrimination around race. In other words, now that Prop 209 is in effect, he wants to make a law that would make it illegal for California universities or state contractors to collect any data to see how Prop 209 impacted certain racial groups.

However, despite all this colorblind talk, Connerly stops short when it comes to prison and law enforcement. Here, Connerly states that it’s perfectly ok in his ‘colorblind’ society to separate prisoners by race. Connerly says that because the California penal system is racially charged with race riots occurring all the time, it’s important that folks who are incarcerated be separated by race. Of course Connerly never addresses the issue of prison guards deliberately playing racial groups off one another to keep everything is disarray. And of course Connerly, naively thinks that in a state that has the highest prison population in the country, that once people get released that all that racial baggage will magically disappear and everyone will come out and suddenly be colorblind.

This important issue, Prop 54 is one that ‘Arnold the Terminator’ has been avoiding like the plague. I’ve called his office at least 6 times asking what Arnold’s position was on this initiative and each time his people referred me to his website <www.joinarnold.com> where he has no stated position. He has a lot of information on other things including his support of the death penalty and his support of three strike law, but nothing on Prop 54.

On one particular show last week, I called all the leading candidates and checked their websites. Schwarzenegger and Gary Coleman were the only one’s with no answer, Coleman’s people tried to clown while Schwarzenegger press secretary kept me on hold for 20 minutes and then finally told me that Arnold’s position on these issues will be on the site shortly. That was more than a week ago and still no information.

I was pretty blunt with the press secretary and told her that it was disappointing that a guy who claims that California needs strong, decisive leadership was waffling on what is actually the most important issue on the ballot. Prop 54 will have long lasting implications should it pass and sadly, the guy with the nice smile, tough demeanor and action packed movies is running scared like Vanilla Ice at a Suge Knight house party. I guess his boss, oops I mean advisors, Pete Wilson and George Schultz haven’t told him which way to stand on this issue. I guess the best thing to do is call the white house to find out what Arnold’s position is on Prop 54. Maybe I can find out from Bush and his boss Dick Cheney then I can call Arnold’s campaign office and tell him which way he’ll be standing on the issue because he obviously isn’t speaking for himself.


The thing that everyone is watching and waiting to see is whether or not Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamonte who is currently beating Arnold in the polls, is a Latino version of Gray Davis. Folks don’t seem to be overly thrilled with him despite the fact that he could be the state’s first Latino Governor. Others are waiting to see whether or not progressive candidates like Arianna Huffington or the Green Party’s Peter Camejo have any sort of serious chance to win.

As I noted earlier, the turning point to this recall election is the young Hip Hop generation who have a sizeable population in the state. It’s been mentioned time and time again in the mainstream press. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see which candidate actively goes out to court them. Thus far I haven’t seen a whole lot of movement. For example, there have been two Raider home games and a couple of 49er home games which drew tens of thousands of people. I saw none of the candidates or their volunteers at the game or the tailgate parties.

Last week Grambling State played San Jose State and all sorts of folks were in town. There were tens of thousands of people [mostly black and brown] in the San Jose area. Still no sign of the candidates. This past Labor Day Weekend, UC Berkeley had it’s opening game where an estimated 30 thousand people were on hand and again no sign of the recall candidates or their volunteers.

What you did see was, as tens of thousands of people poured out of the Cal Berkeley stadium’s two main exits were dozens of people handing out flyers to promote upcoming concerts, night clubs and movies. The Oakland Tribune newspaper was out earlier handing out placards that said ‘Go Bears’ on one side and the Tribune advertisement on the other side. One has to wonder, why hadn’t any of the candidates or their volunteers who say they want more young people to come out, not on hand to hand out to do the same.

Call me naA’ve, but if you have 20-50 thousand people showing up at a venue doesn’t it make sense to go out and try and holler at them? If Gray Davis is really serious about trying to save his job, shouldn’t he have been rolling through the parking lot of one of these football stadiums wearing your favorite team’s jersey trying to get your vote? Shouldn’t a candidate like Cruz Bustamonte or his volunteers have been out on Telegraph Avenue, which is the main street leading up to the campus, engaging those thousands of people.

A quick walk down to Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue shows not only thousands of people on the streets but dozens of booths with local merchants selling everything from mix tapes to jewelry. Well known graph writer Reefa 1 mans a popular booth in front of Rasputin’s Record store. He had noted that he was doing a brisk business selling customized hats as well as giving out lots of literature of his ‘lessons’, which give break downs on US propaganda and other ‘political’ issues. He noted that he had not seen any recall candidates on the popular strip, but then again he wasn’t all that surprised. Reefa 1 shared the same sentiments that were expressed by the two dozen or so people I had interviewed earlier which is none of these candidates are really serious about trying to reach the people and get them substantially involved in this recall election. Unless there’s a lot of press on hand where candidates can get a quick 30 second sound bite then they aren’t really trying to bother with folks. The fact that you didn’t even see some of the ‘progressive candidates’ out there meeting and greeting people and lacing them up with information about the recall underscored his point. Folks aren’t all that serious. It’s either that or they simply aren’t in touch with the community. Reefa 1 concluded by noting that getting a booth is not that hard and that it would cost folks less then 300 bucks for the year. Why hadn’t anyone involved in the recall taken advantage of that is the 64 thousand dollar question.

An even bigger miss took place this past weekend at the Art and Soul Festival in Oakland that attracted close to a 100 thousand people. There were free concerts from Ziggy Marley and Pete Escovito as well as local artists. Again no recall candidates in site. The only folks out there hustling and trying to connect with folks was the folks helping out the presidential campaign for Dennis Kucinich. One of their volunteers had expressed surprise that more people involved in the recall had not come to this heavily attended event. It wasn’t like they weren’t in the Bay Area. For example, Governor Gray Davis and Cruz Bustamonte attended a labor rally in nearby San Francisco and Pleasanton which that had a fraction of the people of Oakland’s Art & Soul festival. If neither one of them couldn’t make it where were their campaign volunteers?

Over the past couple of weeks there have been several big concerts, in the Bay Area including a Tony Toni Tone reunion and the Sprite remix tour with De La Soul and Talib Kweli. Busta Rhymes, Goapele, Kid Capri, Rodney & Joe Cooley, Young MC, The Breakastra and Das Efx also swung through the Bay Area to do shows at smaller, yet packed venues and night clubs. Again, not one candidate and their volunteers have bothered to go out, pass out flyers at the conclusion of these outings. Doesn’t it make sense to hit these crowds where the average age is over 21?

When I leave a venue I see all sorts of street team promoters giving me flyers to the next big event. I get free cds and occasionally free drinks from a soft drink company. There are folks handing out flyers telling me when E-40’s new album is coming out. There are folks handing out info telling me which radio station to listen to, but there’s no information being handed out about who stands or who we should be seriously considering in the upcoming historic recall election. Why is that?

As the election draws closer. It will be interesting to see if I can get a ‘NO on Prop 54′ flyer when I leave a packed concert venue in LA or San Fran? Will I hear their commercials during the Sway & King Tech Wake Up Show which are heard up and down the state? Will I see them trying to engage me during tv shows like Rap City or Comic View on BET? Will I hear them being shouted out in a Mixtape? Will I see wrapped van or a huge Ill Trendz street team billboard with the picture and message of a candidate serious about trying to reach the young Hip Hop Voter? Will they even try and get an endorsement from icons and major players within that community? Maybe all the parties involve have the same plan when it comes to youth/ Hip Hop vote. Keep them away from the polls and build more prisons.

As we come upon the seventh year that marks the death of 2Pac, I wish more folks would follow his lead. A couple of months before he died he, Snoop Dogg and MC Hammer held a press conference where he talked about taking his 6 million fans and turning them into a powerful voting block that would essentially chin check politicians who didn’t properly deal with them. We need more Hip Hoppers to stop chin checking [feuding] with each other and start kicking up dust around this election.

Cali’s a strange place and there’s still time to get things crackin’. We’re on the verge of making history, hopefully Cali Hip Hop’s Hip Hop community will be a part of it. Trust me folks if this recall goes through and Arnold wins, expect a recall in your city and state real soon.