Right-wing recall election advances vs. California. Gov. Gavin Newsom
Protesters against COVID-19 restrictions in Huntington Beach in November also call for Gov. Gavin Newsom's removal. Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber announced on April 26 that over 1.6 million valid voter signatures were submitted on petitions seeking to recall Governor Gavin Newsom, making it all but certain that a recall election will be held toward the end of this year.

The recall petition campaign – the sixth such effort to be launched against Newsom, a Democrat, since he took office two years ago but the only one to achieve the needed signatures – was launched early last year by far-right, pro-Trump Republicans unhappy over the governor’s challenges to Trump policies including immigration and the death penalty, as well as California’s high taxes and incidence of homelessness. In the wake of the pandemic, recall proponents’ complaints expanded to include Newsom’s orders limiting business activities and restricting gatherings, including religious services.

As the original November deadline for signature-gathering approached, recall organizers told a Sacramento Superior Court judge that the pandemic had seriously hampered their efforts. The judge extended their deadline by 120 days.

Around the same time, Gov. Newsom, who had urged Californians not to gather with people outside their own household, was spotted enjoying a friend’s birthday party at a fancy Napa Valley restaurant. He apologized, but signature-gathering picked up speed.

Under the complex timeline now in effect, signers of the recall petition have 30 business days to remove their signatures if they wish to do so. If after that, the required number of signatures – just under 1.5 million – remain, the state Department of Finance has 30 business days to estimate the cost of a recall election. The Secretary of State can then certify the signatures, and the Lieutenant Governor calls the recall election.

An independent effort to get petition signers to withdraw their names, called Stop the Steal, has been launched by former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, but even Perata calls that “a tall order.”

It is anticipated that a recall election will take place sometime between mid-November and early December. In the normal course of things, Newsom will be up for re-election again anyway in November 2022.

The recall ballot will have two questions: Does the voter support recalling Gov. Newsom? And if Newsom is recalled, who should take his place? If the answer to the first question is Yes, the candidate with the highest vote wins, even with less than 50% of the total votes cast. Newsom cannot run as a replacement candidate.

In good news for Newsom, the Public Policy Institute of California found 56% of the 1,700-plus people they interviewed in March saying they would vote No to a recall, while 40% would vote Yes, and 5% were not sure.

What Gov. Newsom has going for himself in a recall election is the success of his administration in combatting the coronavirus pandemic. Some 54 percent of voters say they are against the recall. AP

And working in the governor’s favor, at least right now, is that California has the country’s lowest incidence of COVID-19.

Attitudes toward the recall effort reveal the political polarization that continues to exist in California despite its overall “blue state” standing.

Recall proponents reportedly garnered signatures from upwards of 12% of registered voters in sparsely populated rural Siskiyou, Amador, Calaveras, and Tuolumne Counties, while the numbers shrank to 3% in Los Angeles County, and even lower in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Among national supporters of the recall are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Money has poured in from around the country, including at least $250,000 from the Republican National Committee and over $175,000 from the California Republican Party.

Heading recall advocates in the state is Orrin Heatlie, a former Yolo County law enforcement officer, who is listed as “lead proponent” on recallgavin2020.com, the “official” recall site. He is joined there by Senior Advisor Randy Economy.

Rescue California-Recall Gavin Newsom, headed by former California Republican Party chair Tom Del Beccaro, brings together many present and former California Republican leaders.

The group claims credit for the state’s only previous recall of a governor, the 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis and election of Arnold Schwarzenegger – a precedent that worries many Newsom backers despite the current governor’s strong poll numbers. Schwarzenegger has said he’s staying out of the current contest.

Though recall leaders say they don’t have ties with far-right groups, members of groups like the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, and Freedom Angels have been linked to recall campaign activities.

Standing staunchly against the recall and supporting the California Democratic Party in its fightback are a long list of Democrats at the national level, starting with President Joe Biden and including Democratic Party leaders like Sens. Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren, and Georgia organizer Stacey Abrams.

Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison put it this way: “Democrats in California and across the country are united against this partisan Republican recall … While Governor Newsom has time and time again demonstrated the smart, capable, and focused leadership necessary to steer his state through unprecedented crises, Republicans have demonstrated that they are only focused on playing dangerous games to disrupt the critical work of the governor and leaving taxpayers on the hook for this wasteful effort.”

The California Democratic Committee gave the anti-recall campaign over $500,000 during its first week in operation, and in its first two weeks, Stop the Republican Recall had raised over $3 million, mostly from small donors.

Juan Rodriguez, campaign manager for the Stop the Republican Recall Campaign, says the election “will be about two different visions for California. The Republican recall – backed by partisan, pro-Trump, and far-right forces – threatens our values as Californians and seeks to undo the important progress we’ve made under Gov. Newsom, fighting COVID, supporting families who are struggling, protecting our environment, common-sense gun safety laws. There’s simply too much at stake. We will win!”

Among labor unions backing Gov. Newsom are the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which tops its website home page with a petition: Health Care for All, Not a Costly Recall! and SEIU’s United Healthcare Workers West, which in early April voted overwhelmingly to oppose the recall. Both unions cite Newsom’s long record of supporting healthcare workers and promoting a broad healthcare agenda.

So far, no Democrats are running, unlike the situation in 2003, when then-Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante ran in an attempt to block a Republican win.

To date, Republican candidates include businessman John Cox, who lost badly to Newsom in 2018; former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; former Rep. Doug Ose; and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner. It is anticipated that many more candidates will sign on as the election draws closer. A total of 135 candidates were on the ballot in 2003.


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.