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.


  1. “.. The resulting recall, the determined effort of those recalled not to leave office, and the ultimate repeal of the utility tax ..”

    And the dim-wit voters of Santa Ana have allowed their utility tax to stand – to this day.

  2. the great 1994 recall took fullerton from small time politics and enlightened its city council to the fact that fullertonians rejected the divine right of it civic leaders to ruthlessly rule its populace. I still cant get over the fact that an elementary school teacher is mayor of our city. No offense, but i would be more impressed if the mayor was at least qualified to teach high school subjects. Fullerton still has a way to go to get off Sinclair Lewis’ Mains Street

  3. ft, I thought Quirk was a teacher’s aide. Anyway she’s not mayor anymore.

    Steve, THAT Lady Liberty never waterboarded anybody. Check the flag!

  4. Well said! Although I’m a little too young to remember much about the Fullerton Recall I’ve heard that it was a great example of grassroots democracy going up against the “powers that be.” And that for once the little guys won.

    Travis is right. Our generation can do it again if we need to!

  5. Damn, Don Bankhead was on the City Council in 1994?!?!?!?! I wonder if he knows how to send an email….?

  6. Damn, Joe. He was on the City Council before your dad was on NYPD Blue. Now, that’s a LONG time!

    I have to say, I have been agreeing with Don as of late. Although, I cannot believe he wore a railroad hat at the council meeting in which they heard the railroad museum. I think that was a ‘bit biased. It was obvious he had already made up his mind. In the future, I would like to see decision makers open to deliberation rather than walking into a meeting with their decision on their forehead.

  7. Speaking of Blankhead and the railroad hat, I went to the mandatory ethics training for city commissioners last night and the lecturer pointed out that wearing a hat in favor of or in opposition to an item on the agenda would invalidate the meeting if challenged. Thanks Don. Not only did you look like an idiot with that hat on but you jeopardized the legality of the meeting in the process. Oh well, at least your lack of sense hasn’t resulted in being recalled a second for supporting the pension spike before you voted against it.

  8. Kenny – you and or any Friend of Fullerton’s Future are welcome to write post on this blog. What topic are you interested in?

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