California's plastics processors are witnessing an event of historical significance this fall, and some have enjoyed a front-row seat at this three-ring circus that looks to be even more politically significant than it is entertaining.
The show, of course, is the California recall election.
Hollywood firepower is nothing new in Golden State politics. But this year is notable for the extreme, perhaps even comical, level to which celebrities are taking control of the spotlight. The story has the attention of the entire global news media, or at least the portion that has been subjected to Terminator and Conan the Barbarian movies.
Why is the plastics industry involved? First, because many of the key issues in this election have hit local processors hard. Companies say high taxes and onerous government regulations are driving them out of California. Also, processors still are angry about the energy crisis that shut down or crippled many firms, especially in 2000 and 2001, during the early days of the state's energy deregulation effort.
In fact, one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's first actions as an official candidate was to visit Coast Converters Inc., a Los Angeles-based extruder and converter that is moving to North Las Vegas, Nev. The 40-year-old company blamed the decision on the high cost of operating in California, including rates for workers' compensation, insurance, utilities and payment of structured employee overtime.
Second, there's the role that Darrell Issa played in making the recall a reality. For those who don't remember, Issa is one of the few plastics executives in Congress: He founded an injection molding company, Directed Electronics Inc., in 1987, before moving from his native Ohio to Southern California. Issa was elected to the House of Representatives from his conservative Orange County district in 2000.
Today Issa is a star in GOP circles. He spent more than $1.6 million of his own money to promote the recall of Gov. Gray Davis. But Issa chose not to seek the seat himself, and now he's working to unite Republicans behind one candidate. (The conservatives' preference, if you haven't heard, is state Sen. Tom McClintock, although Issa may decide that Schwarzenegger is more electable.)
Some critics say the recall effort is anti-democratic - they say Republicans are trying to overturn the results of the November 1998 election that saw Davis win in a landslide. But the truth is that recall elections historically are linked to progressives, not conservatives, and recalls are arguably one of the most democratic tools available in U.S. politics.
We hesitate to endorse a candidate, although voters certainly have a variety of choices: Schwarzenegger is (despite his best efforts to court the right wing) a moderate, McClintock a conservative, Democrat Cruz Bustamante a liberal, and Davis an utter failure.
If the winner is Schwarzenegger, it will be interesting to see whether he becomes another Jesse Ventura, or whether he can capitalize on the attention. What would he do for manufacturing businesses like plastics processors? According to his spokesman, Schwarzenegger supports altering state rules so that they are more in line with those of other states.
The national media will continue to watch, and whoever wins, especially if they're successful, will have a leading spot in national politics at least until 2008.