Recalling an elected official is a big deal. For starters, these people were (presumably) elected by a majority of their constituents. And, to reverse the will of the people, the bar should be and usually is set high to make sure they genuinely want to reverse their prior decision.
Laws vary by state, but most have provisions through which certain office-holders can be removed. California is one of those states, and they have exercised their prerogative to change their minds 179 times since 1913 – 55 of those recalls were of their then-governors. Gray Davis was most recently removed, in 2003.
At this writing, the current governor, Gavin Newsom, is watching as ballots stream in for the effort to dislodge him from office. Newsom was elected with nearly 62% of the vote. But that still left more than one-third of California voters who weren’t so very fond of him.
Among those was a Yolo County Sheriff’s sergeant, Orrin Heatlie. Orrin is a native Californian, born, raised and currently residing in Folsom (the city, not the prison). He retired from the Sheriff’s Department after 25 years’ service.
With, apparently, new-found free time on his hands, Orrin came up with a voluminous list of reasons he doesn’t approve of Gov. Newsom’s leadership, and organized the “Recall Gavin 2020” petition drive to have him recalled.
Most of the reasons have to do with Newsom’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including shut-downs, mask mandates, and erecting billboards reminding people to social distance. The former sheriff also disapproved strongly of Newsom’s indefinite suspension in 2019 of California’s death penalty. He also blames Newsom for measures passed by the state legislature, or which are federally-implemented, or are entirely bogus, such as (and this is a quote): “Illegals are Given: Income Tax Refunds, Welfare, Medical Insurance, Housing, Education, Food Stamps, Cell Phones…FREE!”
In order to recall Newsom, however, signatures equal to a percentage of voters who had participated in the most recent general election had to be collected. In this case, that number equaled 1,495,970 valid signatures. Newsom himself admitted to CNN, “All you need is about a quarter of the people that voted for Donald Trump to get this recall petition to the voters.” Indeed, the “Recall Gavin” group collected 2.1 million signatures by the March 17 deadline. Of those, 1,719,943 were vetted, registered voters.
The next step, then, was to put the recall question on the ballot. A special election was called, consisting of two questions: Recall the governor (Y/N)? and (if the yesses win) with whom do we replace him?
Ironically, one of Orrin Heatlie’s many gripes about Newsom was that he instituted “Mandatory Mail-in Voting”. This upset him to the extent that the bullet point was accompanied by a link to a CBS report on the subject. Either Orrin didn’t read that article, or he assumed no one else would. It reads, in part:
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday signed an executive order to ensure every registered voter in the state is automatically mailed a ballot for the November presidential election. The executive order does not replace in-person voting, Newsom said during a press conference.
“Mail-in ballot is important but it’s not an exclusive substitute to physical locations,” Newsom said. He added that the state is still working to have “the appropriate number of physical sites for people to vote as well.”
However, for those who want to participate by mail-in ballots, voting commenced in mid-August and tens of thousands will avail themselves of this “extreme government OVERREACH” to vote on Orrin’s pet project.
Newsom is going to need every vote he can muster. Special elections in California tend to have anemic turn-out, averaging around 33% of eligible participants. On top of that, he needs to get 50% or more of the vote, and his fellow Democrats (despite the state’s reputation for being a bastion of liberalism) make up only 46% of registered voters. Democrats had a presence last November, when they were sensing the urgency surrounding a possible Trump re-election; generally, though, they have a reputation for being unreliable on election day. Newsom, then, will need to squeeze the balance of the votes he needs from the registered Independents, Greens and Peace & Freedom Party members to keep his job.
Pollster FiveThirtyEight, just last week, showed the up/down question was a dead heat with a slim 1.2% margin of respondents favoring retention of the governor.
This makes even more important that second question: with whom do we replace Newsom?
<Cue circus music> There are 46 candidates vying for California’s top spot. The full list (including profiles) is on Ballotpedia. But, if you think that’s an unwieldy number, when Gray Davis was successfully recalled, 135 candidates ran for his seat, with Arnold Schwarzenegger coming out on top. This time, Larry Elder, Caitlyn Jenner, a former mayor of San Diego as well as a one-name, 70-year-old “former billboard model” are all in the fray.
As happened in 2003, the odds are good that the election results would favor a Republican. We won’t know until after September 14, so stay tuned.