SACRAMENTO — After millions of dollars raised and spent and a long trail of acrimonious campaigning, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, said Wednesday he is dropping his bid to recall Sen. Jeff Denham, saying he worried it would get in the way of fixing the state's precarious fiscal condition.
The abrupt move came, he said, after deciding that a recall of the Merced Republican would directly affect his ability to negotiate a budget with Republicans, who have assailed him for pursuing the recall.
He said he told Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno, that "I did not believe this kind of politics cast against the huge problems we're having in the state made a lot of sense.
"You get to the point where you just have to say you gotta see what matters most," Perata said.
"And I don't want to go through what we went through last year. The state can't afford it. You know how things are at the end of a campaign. They get uglier and uglier, tenser and tenser, and it made no sense."
With the deadline for the budget coming up in seven weeks, Perata said he got some dire warnings from Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Controller John Chiang. They told him the state is facing potential bankruptcy if lawmakers fail to get a budget out on time.
Perata started the recall after Denham refused to vote for last year's budget, leading to a 52-day stalemate.
Perata was criticized heavily — by Democrats and Republicans alike in Denham's district, and editorials around the state — for trying to oust a lawmaker over a vote. Only last week, he said part of the reason for recalling Denham would be to get a 26th Democrat in the Senate — one shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass a budget and taxes.
Meanwhile, the "Dump Denham" campaign had just purchased $1.4 million in television ads.
Perata denied that political calculus was part of his decision, saying "there was no quid pro quo" and that "I never look at polls."
But a Denham campaign spokesman said Perata would never have dropped the bid if he thought he could win.
"If Perata thought he'd win this, he'd be moving forward," said Kevin Spillane. "He's cutting his losses and saving his campaign cash. He's bowing to reality. It was a lack of support in the district that ended this."
Spillane said Denham was vindicated, but the campaign still must go on because the recall is on the June 3 ballot. He said he's still waiting for campaign signs to come down, television ads to be canceled and campaign cash to be transferred from the "Dump Denham" campaign committee.
Cogdill avoided crowing over the decision. Instead, he applauded Perata's move.
"This eliminates an unnecessary distraction in an already contentious budget year," he said. "This will allow us to focus on doing what voters expect from us: achieving a balanced, responsible budget."
Reach Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101 or email@example.com