August 6, 2003
Arianna Huffington talks about Running for Governor of California and the Recall Election of Gray Davis
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Arianna Huffington gives one of her first interviews as a candidate
for governor of California to BuzzFlash.com.
Huffington held a news conference and rally to make her candidacy formal on Wednesday morning, August, 6, 2003, at "A Place Called Home," a center for at-risk teens in downtown Los Angeles where Arianna has served on the board for eight years.
In the complicated California recall ballot, initiated by Republicans to subvert democracy in Americaís largest (population) state (Gray Davis was just re-elected in November of last year), Huffington would appear on a ballot of names from which a new governor for the Golden State would be chosen if a majority of voters choose to recall Davis. The recall election is currently scheduled for October 7th, but Governor Davis is contesting that date in court.
Huffington states her main reason for running on her new campaign website at http://www.ariannaforgov.com/fix.html.
On the same day that Huffington announced her candidacy as an Independent, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein declared that she would not place her name on the recall ballot.
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BUZZFLASH: Let me start off by asking you why you decided to put your name on the California gubernatorial recall ballot.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: Because even though I believe that the recall effort has been a Republican power grab -- and that this is not a way to run a democracy -- I also see here an unprecedented opportunity to take back our political system, and to reorder our policy priorities, so that finally public policy is set not by special interests and big contributors, but by what is best for the public.
BUZZFLASH: What do you say to people like Terry McAuliffe, head of the Democratic National Committee, who said that the Democrats were united -- whether they love him or not -- behind Gray Davis, so as not to create a fractionalized competition where a Republican moderate like Former Los Angeles Mayor Riordan, if he runs, could squeeze through?
HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, even some Democrats are criticizing that strategy. Barbara Boxer, today in the L.A. Times, criticized the strategy of circling the wagons around Davis and playing Russian roulette with the state, assuming that somehow he will defeat the recall. The truth is that the polls are going against him.
But even if you donít believe the polls, which I certainly do not pay much attention to, itís at best a 50-50 chance that he will survive. And you canít roll the dice and say why donít we just take the risk and let the state go to a Republican?
And any Republican who would win would be a Bush Republican, because thereís nobody who would differentiate himself from Bushís policies in Washington, which have, to a large extent, been responsible for the fiscal crisis in California in the first place. And thatís one of the things I want to do in the campaign Ė- connect the dots between the fiscal irresponsibility and the distorted priorities of the Bush administration, and how all that has affected the states.
BUZZFLASH: There was a period when California and Gray Davis were asking for regulatory relief in terms of energy prices, and Cheney basically came in and said "No, the energy companies are not the problem Ė- you are." What role did the energy crisis and the Bush administration policy play in the current economic crisis in California?
HUFFINGTON: It has played a major role. And thereís no question that the way the Administration coddled Enron and Ken Lay, and other energy companies, perpetuated the energy crisis. And itís not that Gray Davis handled it in a manner that exemplified real leadership. And so it is a combination of the coddling by the Bush administration and also a lot of waiting until the last moment, and not seeing the crisis that was looming around the corner, which ultimately is what leadership is all about -Ė seeing the crisis before itís right in front of us.
BUZZFLASH: Maybe what you are saying is that the best strategy here is to start a "Recall Bush Campaign," were that legally allowable?
HUFFINGTON: Well, Iím not in favor of recalls. I think there are elections. And unfortunately, the publicís choices in elections are being limited. Because of redistricting, the part of incumbency, the part with the most money too often prevails. So the public increasingly has fewer and fewer choices.
BUZZFLASH: You are considered a progressive and are associated with the pro-democracy movement, working for the full and active participation of people in elections. Setting the recall aside for a moment, were this just a general election, would you say that the California population -Ė the majority of Golden State voters Ė- is in the progressive camp?
HUFFINGTON: Well, first of all, the fact that this is not an ordinary election provides a historic opportunity to progressives and independents. I am running as an independent. There are 21% registered independents in the state, and growing. And there is no question that, because of the anger at the influence of money and politics, and the corruption of the political system, there are a lot of people -Ė especially young people -Ė who have given up on the system, but who want to get involved. It was the fact that so many young people, and older people, and middle-aged people like me, got involved with the "Run, Arianna, Run" website that was started in Northern California that it strongly influenced me to run.
A lot of young people want to get involved in politics again, want to get re-engaged. As you know, turnout has been going down dramatically among young people, but thatís not because they donít care. Itís because they donít believe they can make a difference.
And one of the things thatís persuaded me to run was to give an opportunity to young people to make a difference again, and to build a coalition around these key issues that I have been writing about, and been active on, and the issues that were central to the shadow convention that I helped convene in 2000: which include economic justice and the growing income disparities; and the growing gaps in educational opportunities; the dominance of money in our political system; and what weíre doing to our environment.
In California, you know, the air is getting worse, leading to terrible health hazards for young people and senior citizens, especially. Through the "Detroit Project" that I launched together with three friends, we put the emphasis on the need for greater fuel efficiency, which affects both our national security and our environment. So these are critical issues. And this is an opportunity to put them to the front burner of our agenda and our political conversation.
BUZZFLASH: Now let me ask you, the primary issue here -- beyond Governor Davisí personality and modus operandi, which are of some controversy -- is, as in most states, the budget, but is magnified because California is the largest state in the union. When people ask you, okay, if you become governor, if the recall effort is successful, and then youíre elected governor as part of that process, what would you do to deal with the burgeoning deficit in California?
HUFFINGTON: It is amazing to see how unequally our tax policy is implemented, and what a key this would be to fixing our budget problems. We are, at the moment, losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year because of tax shelters. And weíre losing about $4 billion because of the way that commercial property taxes, through loopholes, are very unfairly assessed. So these are really some of the key issues that Iím going to raise. Then we have also look at the way that our taxes donít fall equally on the privileged elite, who have access to politicians who provide them with loopholes and tax shelter opportunities. That means that they donít pay the billions of dollars that are collectively due from them.
And that, for me, is really a key to my campaign, because these are not right-left issues. These are right-wrong issues. You donít have to be on the left to be against tax dodging. And that kind of tax dodging needs to be exposed and corrected that will both go a long way towards addressing a budget crisis. It will also send a message to everyone in the state that everyone will be treated equally. And thatís incredibly important, because increasingly, a lot of people are beginning to feel that we are becoming a feudal state where corporations and wealthy individuals can shelter billions of dollars. Why, if you are an African-American veteran Ė- this is a true story -- which owes $500 to the IRS, should you get your house taken away? This is what happened to a veteran, and heís 80, whoís now living in a veteranís home, and who lost his house that he had bought through a lot of hard work and savings. And that shows a kind of upstairs-downstairs society that we need to change in California and around the country, of course.
BUZZFLASH: Youíve said youíve chosen to run as an independent. Why have you chosen to run as an independent rather than running as a Democrat?
HUFFINGTON: Iím a registered independent and I AM an independent. Iíve always been an independent, ever since my political transformation, because I believe that what I can bring to the people of California is the ability to speak straight about things, to name names, whether theyíre Democrats or Republicans. And to really provide independent leadership. I think that thereís nothing more important than that right now, and to have an independent leader uncompromised by special interest money or favors, who will call the irresponsible to account, whether itís the President of the United States or the Prison Guards Union here in California. And to be able to do that, itís a great advantage to be an independent.
BUZZFLASH: Now let me just ask some questions about the technical aspects of the recall vote. The election is set for what date?
HUFFINGTON: October 7th.
BUZZFLASH: Okay, when a person goes into the voting booth, they first must make a decision on whether or not to recall the governor. Is that right?
HUFFINGTON: Yes. Actually I am very glad you are clarifying that, because you would be amazed how many people, including people with a lot of political knowledge, are confused. So hereís how it is. You get really two parts to the ballot. The first is for or against the recall Ė- yes or no on the recall. And whether you vote yes or no on the recall, or whether you donít vote at all on the recall, you STILL have the opportunity to vote for a replacement. And Gray Davis will not be on that replacement list. And whoever gets a plurality of the votes from the list of the names on the replacement, wins; that is if Governor Davis loses the recall vote and is, in essence, voted out of office (recalled). So it is an unprecedented opportunity for an independent, because you could win with 20% of the vote. You could win with 15% of the vote.
The recall succeeds unless Greg Davis gets 50% of the vote or more.
BUZZFLASH: Are we correct in understanding that you can vote to retain Davis in office, but still vote for a replacement?
HUFFINGTON: Oh, absolutely yes. Thatís at the heart of everything Ė- that you can vote against the recall and vote for an alternative choice if the recall succeeds.
BUZZFLASH: Now a further clarification Ė- thereís a website, in fact, which BuzzFlash posted, just so readers could see it, out of interest (I know nothing about it other than we came across it) -Ė that is encouraging people, because the threshold level for filing to run is fairly small, to run, to make the ballot so cumbersome that the election couldnít come off in October. In short, is it true that there's likely to be hundreds of people on the ballot?
HUFFINGTON: You know, we donít know. A lot of people have taken papers, but we donít know how many are actually going to file nominating papers. Thereís no question itís going to be a long list. But as it often happens in elections, in the end, the debate and the campaign will be among the viable candidates.
But most importantly, itís very easy to focus on the clownish, chaotic aspects of this campaign. Theyíre so obvious and amusing and troubling. But out of chaos come opportunities, and that is really the message that Iím bringing to this campaign. When things are very stable and predictable, the status quo prevails. Right now, we have an opportunity to give the electorate a real choice that is not Ė- assuming the recall succeeds, and nobody will know that until after the vote Ė- just between a leader whoís been hopelessly compromised, like Gray Davis, and a Republican who will bring to Sacramento more of the same economic policies that have led to this worsening state, in terms of the jobs and economic recovery in the country, and a Republican who will graft the disastrous Bush economic policies on the state of California.
BUZZFLASH: Given that California has 35 million residents, how, in a very short timeframe of two months, are you going to communicate your message to that many people?
HUFFINGTON: Well, thatís the challenge of California. But thatís where I believe so much in grassroots politics, in independent media, in the Internet, what youíre doing at BuzzFlash.
Basically what we are trying to do with the campaign would not be possible, were it not for the Internet, were it not for the way that ideas and action can catch fire, through the Internet, and also the fact that any real political change always comes through what Martin Luther King called a "creative minority." You know, you never reach everybody at once. You first need to reach a critical mass of people. And then once that tipping point happens, the change spreads. And what Iíve been writing, both in "Pigs at the Trough," my last book, and in my book before that, "How to Overthrow the Government," and in hundreds of columns, is basically that only the people of our state and our nation can save democracy. Itís really an opportunity to galvanize the people to take back their state.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
otherwise noted, all original