Commentary

Recalling a bureaucracy, too

A successful California recall wouldn’t just oust Gray Davisââ?¬â??it would also boot hundreds of un-elected political appointees who engage in the nuts-and-bolts business of regulation. They can wield tremendous power, although they are largely unknown: As many as 500 of the 3,000 officials and workers appointed by the governor — including the influential heads of nearly a dozen state agencies — could be replaced immediately if Gray Davis is recalled on Oct. 7, experts say. The appointees collectively wield immense power in Sacramento, including the secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing, which oversees Caltrans and the Department of Motor Vehicles; the head of the Resources Agency, which has jurisdiction over the Coastal Commission and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy; and the secretary of the state Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the governor — in some cases, with Senate approval — appoints hundreds of people to boards as powerful University of California regents and the California State University trustees, and as local as the San Fernando Valley Fair Board and the Baldwin Hills Conservancy Governing Board. While most appointees serve fixed terms, even if the governor leaves office, about 500 serve at his pleasure, meaning they could be replaced overnight by a new governor, said Davis spokeswoman Amber Pasricha. Some claim that the democratic process keeps politicians accountable to voters. After all, if we don’t like what they’re up to we can always vote the bums outââ?¬â??these days we might even recall them. But if we don’t like what these appointees are up to, we’re in a more difficult spot. Of course pro-market types are against it, but I would think that the growth of the modern regulatory state, operated by armies of un-elected appointees would make even small “d” democrats queasy. The un-elected bureaucracy also further rigs the game against market reform. In times of crisis, the appointees circle the wagons and campaign to preserve their jobs: Many of Davis’ appointees, from the cabinet-level head of the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency to members of the Public Employment Relations Board, are busy fighting the recall effort. In fact, the core of Davis’ anti-recall campaign consists of gubernatorial appointees who are on leave from the Davis administration. Appointees Steve Smith, head of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency, and Eric Bauman, head of the governor’s Los Angeles office, have taken leaves from their jobs to fight the recall attempt.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.