This year marks the 15th anniversary of the event that has shaped Fullerton’s political landscape ever since: the Fullerton Recall of 1994. Three stubborn, entrenched councilpersons chose to side with the bureaucrats over the citizenry and imposed an unnecessary utility tax on the populace. Well, the citizenry struck back. Common folks, many of who had never taken any part in municipal politics banded together and began a yearlong recall effort that eventually ousted A.B. “Buck” Catlin, Molly McClanahan, and Don Bankhead.
The event was seminal and pitted the old, statist interests that had run Fullerton since the beginning of time and the barbarians who had very recently arrived at the gate. The statists of both political parties looked on in horror as the Outsiders assaulted their citadel. For them it was indeed a contest of good (them) versus the evil of untutored and unwashed common folk.
The resulting recall, the determined effort of those recalled not to leave office, and the ultimate repeal of the utility tax were formative events that created a permanent citizen political presence and a resolute effort by the statists to regain control of the city. The middle of the road Chamber of Commerce Republicans were thrown together with the Fullerton do-good Democrats who had newly discovered their dedication to the City Hall bureaucratic apparatus.
The fact that the old guard managed to secure its position by the re-election of Bankhead and the election of “conservative” empty suit like Godfrey, Jones, Clesceri and Wilson, and outright liberals like Quirk and Keller has shown just how stubborn political interests resist real change. Fullerton has failed to elect a representative who wasn’t beholden to vested interests, and who was willing to challenge the authority, or even the competency of the city manager and staff.
There is hardly any way to gauge the level of animus that some of the old guard, especially the leftists, have nurtured toward those they deem rabble. Will that change with the emergence of a new generation of politicians?
We hope that new leaders will be able to start seeing issues through their responsibility to their constituents more than their affiliation with the apparatchiks in City Hall and the vested interests that have been so cozy with incumbents over the years.
The Recall was memorable less for what it ultimately accomplished than that it demonstrated, for a brief, shining moment, at least, that in a democracy the people can exercise their sovereignty.