Columnist Power: San Jose Mercury News Columnist's Recall Drive against Governor and Two Legislators Results in Overwhelming Reader Response

Article excerpt

Newspaper columnists often take strong positions on issues but Pat Dillon of the San Jose Mercury News has unleashed a reader hurricane with his stand.

It began with his Aug. 25 column that urged a recall drive against California Gov. Pete Wilson and two key legislators over the budget impasse that left the state in financial paralysis.

Dillon did more than sound the charge. He opened the way for it by telling how to mount a recall and providing a mail-in coupon for volunteers. The response was staggering. One week after the column appeared, more than 7,500 people from all over the state wrote, faxed or phoned in their willingness to join the drive by either circulating recall petitions or signing them. And the flood was continuing.

Dillon became the toast of radio and television news and talk shows. Some readers asked him to run for governor and to keep plugging the recall movement whether a budget be approved or not.

By Sept. 1, the squabbling between the governor and the Legislature over the budget was in its 64th day. The state was paying its debts with IOUs, which some banks and other businesses were refusing to accept. Schools, social services and thousands of workers were impacted by the stalemate. By law, the budget should have been signed by July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

The state has issued 98,574 IOUs with a value of $335 million. Interest costs were over $9 million.

Although Dillon's recall targets were Wilson, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti, his column dubbed the entire Legislature "a pack of hyenas," who should be dealt with in a "Bite 'Em Back" campaign.

The 47-year-old Dillon, a former assistant managing editor at the paper, first called the secretary of state's office to find out how a recall works.

One requirement, he wrote, is that a notice of the recall must be published in a newspaper of general circulation.

His column, Dillon told readers, satisfies this requisite and he promised that copies of it would be notarized and sent to Wilson, Brown and Roberti as well as the secretary of state.

Dillon also informed his audience that 923,937 valid signatures would be needed to force a recall election of the governor and 44,000 names each for Brown and Roberti. …