California’s dysfunctional politics may be about to spin right off its axis. Sixty-seven days into a budget crisis longer than any other, Governor Schwarzenegger may face a recall. Live by the sword, etc:

Well-placed Sacramento sources tell us the state’s politically powerful and well-financed prison guards union has lawyers drawing up language for a recall initiative.

Word is, the union will decide within the next couple of weeks whether to hit the streets with petitions.

Recalling Schwarzenegger – who himself rode into office with the 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis - is probably a long shot at best.

Still, Schwarzenegger has angered fellow Republicans with his call for a three-year, 1-cent sales-tax hike to help balance the 2008-09 budget, now more than two months overdue.

His popularity among voters overall is down in the 30 percent range – that’s the neighborhood where President Bush’s numbers are living among voters nationally – and it stands to drop even more the longer the budget mess drags on.

California has no statewide election scheduled until 2010, so if a recall is certified — and the prison guards do have the money to pay for the gatherers to accumulate the signatures required for certification — our state will face yet another, out-of-sequence, expensive special election.

California’s Constitution requires that a recall election be held within 80 days of the date the recall petition is certified, or within 180 days if a regularly scheduled statewide election comes within that time.

Gray Davis had only 24% approval going into his 2003 recall election; how would the Governator fare, especially since he seems to have lost control the state’s budget process this year? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see him Totally Recalled?

Organizers have 160 days to gather 987,226 signatures from the day their initiative’s petitions are approved by the Secretary of State. The 2003 recall election turned in their petitions about six weeks earlier than needed. Presuming the same schedule, and also presuming it again takes about seven weeks to get the petitioning organization approved, we’d be looking at a schedule like this:

October 27: Petitioning organization approved

April 6: Petition deadline

April 16?: Petitions approved

July 6: Latest possible day for special recall election.

Doing anything next spring? I hear California can be very pretty in April, May and June.

I wonder if Arianna Huffington will run for governor again?

All this speculation is, of course, predicated on the prison guards not getting whatever it is they want from the Governator in the current budget impasse. Given their wealth and clout, it’s more likely he’ll knuckle under to their demands rather than face a recall, but it’s fun to speculate, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Robert in Monterey, at Calitics, reminds Democrats that a recall is a political act, and we should evaluate a recall of Arnold in a political context. Will Democrats benefit? Will Californians?

On the merits alone Arnold deserves to be recalled. His failures as governor have caused the state worse pain than anything Gray Davis did. Arnold’s tax cuts and borrowing to pay for core services have broken our budget. He was nearly AWOL on the budget this year, and when he did get involved, it was to petulantly refuse to sign any new bills, breaking government even further. He wanted to make state workers suffer instead of doing the hard but necessary work of pushing Republicans to agree to a budget.

But a recall is a political act and has political consequences and it’s on those grounds that we need to assess it. A recall vote would likely take place sometime in 2009, with the next gubernatorial race taking place just one year later. That would entail a lot of campaigning and perhaps not so much governing.

A recall, as we saw in 2003, is unpredictable and even more personality-driven than normal. It also lacks a party primary, which is especially important for the Democrats. Given the number of big names showing interest in the 2010 nomination, a primary is the best way to not only choose from those candidates but to provide a referendum on the future of California Democrats – whether we’ll embrace a progressive future or remain mired in a corporatist past.

{YouTube clip from "Pumping Iron" courtesy of pont660}