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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 August, 2003, 00:02 GMT 01:02 UK
California governor rush upsets locals
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in Washington

The challenge to Governor Gray Davis is becoming too silly - even for some Californians.

Publisher Larry Flynt
Larry Flynt portrays himself as a "smut-peddler with a heart"
The state has long been the butt of jokes that too much sun - or cosmetic surgery or wealth - has addled the brains of its residents.

But while the good-natured ribbing often reflected a sneaking envy for the weather, the Hollywood film industry or the Silicon Valley hi-tech millionaires, now it is becoming a different story.

Each time politicians try to remind a broader public that at stake with the possible recall of the governor is the fate of a key state - California in itself is the world's fifth-largest economy - another event puts the issue right back in the realm of late-night TV comics.

Terminator film star Arnold Schwarzenegger has even chosen to announce whether he will stand on one of those TV programmes - the Tonight Show with Jay Leno - on Wednesday.

And adult magazine publisher Larry Flynt has thrown his hat into the ring, campaigning under the slogan "vote for the smut-peddler with a heart".

'Chaotic situation'

Far from being celebrated as a demonstration of an open democracy at work, the high number of entries to replace Governor Davis if voters choose to sack him in an October vote, is causing angst.

California Senator Barbara Boxer, who is playing a key role in deciding whether Democrats should put up a replacement candidate even as they argue against the recall election, believes matters are heading out of control.

Arnold Schwarzenegger at the T3 UK premiere
Arnold Schwarzenegger is planning a TV announcement
"When one of the leading candidates is announcing yes or no on Jay Leno, another taking out papers is a publisher of pornography, the thing is turning into a somewhat chaotic situation," she said.

The ever-growing number of potential challengers to Governor Davis adds to the confusion. All anyone needs to become an official candidate is 65 valid signatures and a $3,500 filing fee.

The list of governor-hopefuls is said to include Bob Dole and Michael Jackson - not the politician or pop star however, but simply people who share their names.

All this is providing plenty of entertainment for the rest of the country, but is just too much for some Californians.

The San Francisco Chronicle labelled the developing recall election as "a freak show" in an editorial, adding: "This mess is no laughing matter for Californians".

Steve Lopez, writing in the Los Angeles Times, said Larry Flynt's candidacy could be useful "just in case there was anybody left in the nation who didn't think Californians should be burned at the stake".

'Real' politics

Hustler publisher Mr Flynt, in common with the other candidates, makes a point of addressing the serious issues, particularly the financial crisis, facing California.

"California is big business," he said. "I have been a businessman for 35 years. I can do a better job at balancing the budget than those pinheads bureaucrats in Sacramento," the state's capital.

California Governor Gray Davis
Gray Davis may have to face the Terminator and the Hustler
And amid the jokes, the larger-than-life candidacies and concern that California is becoming a laughing stock, the "real" politics is continuing.

Governor Davis has taken a case to his state's Supreme Court claiming that there is not enough time to organise a vote, but that if it does go ahead, his name should appear with potential replacements.

Mr Davis has also won backing from the powerful AFL-CIO trade union organisation and former President Bill Clinton has offered his advice and support.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's yes or no decision, however, will turn the spotlight back on to the people, not the policies.

But California has experience of turning stars into politicians. An actor called Ronald Reagan was elected governor in 1966. And he did not do so badly.

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