Conan the Governor?

California, spawning ground of the great anti-tax revolt that vaulted Ronald Reagan into the White House, appears pregnant with yet another populist rebellion. Hundreds of thousands of Californians have now signed petitions for an election to recall Gov. Gray Davis.

A decade ago, Chief Justice Rose Bird and two colleagues were recalled from the California Supreme Court for refusing to impose the death penalty. Yet, no governor has ever suffered that indignity.

Why could Gray Davis become the first?

Because, with an approval rating at 27%, a majority of voters are now telling pollsters they would like to toss him out.

Moreover, Davis faces a budget crisis. He must close a looming $38-billion deficit, which will require new cuts in state spending and new tax increases on top of this year’s cuts and tax hikes. Worse for Davis, he is believed to have deceived voters in 2002 as to the depth of the looming budget crisis.

At first, the recall effort was dismissed as a project of full-mooners. The White House, which prefers to see Davis and his Democratic assembly stew in their own juice and California turn to the Republicans in revulsion in 2004, opposed the recall.

But the elites were ignored by the volunteers. Then, Rep. Darrell Issa, who wants to be elected governor the day Davis is recalled, put over $500,000 into the campaign. Then Robert Novak went out to California to learn that the train was out of control and, like “Old 97,” picking up steam coming down the mountain.

Which opens up this scenario.

If the volunteers get sufficient signatures, 900,000 or so, by mid-July, with a few hundred thousand to spare in case some signatures are invalidated, the recall of Davis goes onto a September ballot, with a high likelihood that he will be canned.

Why? Not only will the anti-Davis forces, already a majority, vote to throw him out; so, too, will all the supporters of every candidate, who, by then will have put his or her name on the ballot to succeed Davis. And as the requirements to get on the ballot are minimal, there will be a host of candidates, all calling for Davis’ ouster. Who would succeed Davis?

Sources in California are saying that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.) does not want to be seen as stabbing Davis, does not want to be governor in October and will not permit her name to appear on the fall ballot.

If they are correct, the likely next governor of California may be . . . Conan the Barbarian, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Conservatives dissent. Schwarzenegger is pro-gay rights, pro-choice on abortion and pro-gun control, and called the impeachment of Bill Clinton a Republican disgrace. How, then, conservatives ask, could the Terminator win enough GOP support to be elected?

Answer: The race to succeed Davis will not be a two-way race. It will be a free-for-all. There could be a dozen Democrats, Republicans, Greens and Reformers on the ballot. Just 25% could win it.

Moreover, the right wing of the GOP is disunited on a candidate, and no conservative save Bill Simon-who was defeated last fall-has the money and name recognition to compete with the Terminator in a statewide race that will last only 60 days.

Also, the right has soured on Simon, and Issa and other conservatives will be in the race, so the Right will be splintered, opening up a fast lane for Arnold.

Sources tell this writer that Schwarzenegger has agreed to run, that ex-L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan supports him, that he has begun to reach out to the right to cut a deal where it plays a lead role in balancing the state budget and is given concessions on partial birth abortion.

If Conan the Barbarian is in Sacramento by fall, his robes awash in blood from slashing the California state bureaucracy, recall where you read it first.