Backers of the push to oust Republican state Sen. Jeff Denham of Atwater on Wednesday abandoned their recall campaign, although their effort still will appear on the June 3 ballot.
Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, an Alameda Democrat, announced that he would end the recall campaign to help lawmakers focus on the state's budget deficit and other pressing issues.
"This is my call -- and my best judgment about how to stop the long, slow slide into another long stalemate," Perata said in the statement, adding that his decision was not part of any agreement with state Republicans.
Kevin Spillane, a spokesman for the anti-recall campaign, said he welcomed Perata's declaration but wanted to see actions, not words.
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"Just this week, they increased their media buys," Spillane said. "We want the commercials to be canceled, to see the signs come down."
Commercials for the pro-recall and anti-recall campaigns appeared on Sacramento TV on Wednesday evening.
Paul Hefner, a spokesman for the pro-recall campaign, said future commercials would be pulled and ad time canceled. All campaign activities will cease, he said.
Spillane pointed out that Denham still faces a challenge to his seat because the recall question remains on the ballot. Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas also is on the ballot, and will take Denham's seat if enough people vote to recall him. A simple majority is needed to unseat Denham.
"We still need to run a campaign, and we still need voters to say no," Spillane said.
Salinas did not return a call for comment. Hefner said Perata had told Salinas that the recall campaign would end.
Denham, who represents the 12th Senate District that includes a portion of Stanislaus County, is the subject of a recall vote because Perata was upset by Denham's refusal to vote for a state budget during the summer.
At the time, Denham said the proposed budget was not balanced, but Perata and other Democrats said Denham was going back on campaign promises, and began collecting signatures for a recall.
But since the recall was certified for the ballot in March, local elected officials in both parties and media outlets statewide have decried the effort.
The two-thirds issue
Critics contended that Perata, who controls a political fund that contributed money toward the recall, wanted Denham out because replacing him with a Democrat would make it easier for Perata's party to pass legislation.
Fiscal matters such as the state budget need a two-thirds vote to pass. In the state Senate, that requires at least two Republican state senators.
Last week, Perata said Denham's recall would make it easier for the state to pass a budget that included new taxes for the new fiscal year.
The state budget, which by state law is supposed to be in place by July 1, faces a deficit of $13 billion to $20 billion that lawmakers must close.
Perata's statement said the recall kept coming up when he met with Senate Minority Leader Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, to discuss the state budget.
Cogdill said Perata was making a wise decision.
"This eliminates an unnecessary distraction in an already contentious budget year," Cogdill said in a statement. "This will allow us to focus on doing what voters expect from us: achieving a balanced, responsible budget."
Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse, a Democrat whom Perata approached about challenging Denham, said he supported the Senate leader's decision to dump the recall push for the same reasons as Cogdill.
"It did not seem to have any legs and clearly did not have support in the district, which is where these things really must originate," Morse said.
"Senator Perata made the correct call," he said. "With the yawning deficit of $15 to $20 billion, this was only poisoning relations."
Gov. Schwarzenegger, who opposed the recall, released a statement applauding Perata's decision.
Denham's district, which includes parts or all of Madera, Merced, Monterey, San Benito and Stanislaus counties, has a majority of registered Democrats.
Joan Clendenin, leader of the Republican Party's Stanislaus County chapter, said she was skeptical of Perata's decision to fold the campaign.
"It's a case of them trying to have it both ways, and they must have some devastating polling," she said. "That's the only thing that makes any sense."
Spillane, the anti-recall spokesman, agreed that organizers may have thought the recall would fail.
"My guess is that Perata is cutting his losses and saving his campaign cash," Spillane said.
But Hefner, of the pro-recall campaign, disputed that thinking.
"We're almost still a month away from the election," Hefner said. "Anyone who says they know the outcome of that isn't being very honest."
Where will the money go?
Spillane and Hefner said it was too soon to say what might happen to thousands of dollars groups have donated on both sides of the recall.
Both parties and unaffiliated groups had donated a considerable amount to the campaigns, including $15,000 from the California Federation of Teachers that was reported Wednesday by pro-recall forces.
Denham, a farmer, first was elected to the state Senate in 2002, and easily re-elected in 2006.
He is planning a run for state lieutenant governor in 2010, after he is termed out of the state Senate.