Foul smell or fresh breeze?

As a practical matter, the upcoming election to recall Gov. Gray Davis is an unmitigated disaster. On another level, however, it’s one of the most refreshing things to happen in California politics in years.

As much as Davis deserves to be ridiculed for his shameless money-grubbing, his political cynicism and his finger-to-the-breezes timidity, it is simply not fair to blame him for everything that’s wrong with California. Indeed, a close look at his record shows that in some areas, particularly education, he’s tried to do the right thing. As governors go, he’s far from the worst the state has seen.

California’s crisis is the result of many factors, including the downturn in the national economy, energy scamming by Enron and others, a state funding system that’s dysfunctional to the core, legislative districting that rewards extremism, not cooperation, and, finally, a governor who has failed to lead.

It’s natural to blame Davis. The buck supposedly stops at his desk. It’s not that simple, but he’s certainly the most readily identifiable villain. And if nothing else the recall is a popular effort to take back power from elected officials who collectively have not done well by the citizens of the state, and that’s a breath of fresh air.

The recall itself is a stinky mess, of course. Not only does it create even more confusion and uncertainty at this time of crisis and cost money the government doesn’t have, it could end up electing someone governor with, say, 15 percent of the vote.

Let’s hope it at least serves as a wake-up call to our leaders: Take care of business, or else.