Susan Shelley for Congress in California's 30th District. Link to


Occasional columns by the author of The 37th Amendment: A Novel

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How the First Amendment Came to Protect Topless Dancing. By Susan Shelley. Kindle edition.


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The Great Death-Defying California Recall Election

by Susan Shelley

Political accountability arrived early in California, surprising the governor with his hair still in curlers and his hand still in your pocket.

"I may be old-fashioned," Gray Davis told a crowd at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in West Los Angeles, "But I come from the school where once an election is cast and someone is chosen to be the leader, everyone gets behind that leader and does the people's business for the next four years and then you have an opportunity to choose another leader."

The governor's plea for respect and deference was answered by polls reporting that nearly sixty percent of the state's voters were ready to recall him and forty-two percent wished he would just resign.

Time magazine puzzled over why Californians would spend $60 million to recall a governor "who has not committed any malfeasance and whose major sin was hiding from them the seriousness of the problems ahead when he was running for re-election."

It's a measure of the ethical rot in politics today that Time magazine has to ask that question. Here is the answer.

Elections are a sham unless the voters are free to make an informed choice.

A free choice means the voters have a meaningful alternative and may vote for it without fear of retaliation. A dictator who holds an election with one name on the ballot is not entitled to claim that he is the elected leader of his country.

An informed choice means the voters have access to information about the true state of affairs in their government and that candidates say truthfully what they plan to do if elected. A governor who runs for re-election by deliberately withholding facts from the voters, while hiding an imminent tax increase up his sleeve, is not entitled to claim that the voters have granted him consent to govern for the next four years.

Lies corrode the foundation of representative government. Elections based on lies cannot be held up as the legitimate expression of the will of the voters.

Sleepy Californians awakened just two months after the November election to the news that their state government was unexpectedly $35 billion in deficit. Suddenly there were cuts in school and health programs, hikes in tuition and fees, a tripling of the car tax. There was talk of another increase in the sales tax and of finding a way to raise property taxes.

Enraged voters of all political parties took advantage of an obscure provision in the state constitution and signed recall petitions with a speed and intensity that flummoxed longtime experts.

"I don't like this," Gray Davis told NBC's Today show. It's "bad for democracy."

Apparently, at the old-fashioned school where the governor studied democracy, he learned that it is the right of an elected official to say what he has to say to get by the next election, then do what he wants to do, then hide the truth from the voters and say what he has to say to get by the next election.

He's not the only politician to graduate from that school.

The California recall election may turn out to be the first in a series of continuing education seminars for public officials all across the country. It's certainly a useful reminder that political power belongs not to the people who hold it, but to the people who grant it.

August 16, 2003

Susan Shelley is the author of the novel The 37th Amendment, which includes an appendix on "How the First Amendment Came to Protect Topless Dancing." Both are now available in eBook editions from

© Copyright 2003 by Susan Shelley



Quotes from Gray Davis at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and on the Today show: Sacramento Bee, August 12, 2003 ("Davis calls recall an 'insult' in visit to Jewish center" by Laura Mecoy).

Quote from Time magazine: August 18, 2003 issue ("All that's missing is the popcorn" by Karen Tumulty and Terry McCarthy)

Poll numbers: The Field Poll, released Thursday, August 14, 2003, as reported in the Sacramento Bee on August 15 ("Davis' support plunges" by Gary Delsohn).

Click the title to read the column

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Judicial Activism and the Constitutional Amendment on Marriage

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A Retirement Plan for Sandra Day O'Connor

How the First Amendment Came to Protect Topless Dancing

The Great Death-Defying California Recall Election

The Meaning of CNN's Confession

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Susan Shelley is running for Congress in California's 30th District, the west San Fernando Valley.

Visit Susan's campaign website by clicking here.

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