After some fits and starts, the recall effort against Gov. Gavin Newsom appears to be gaining traction. Proponents say they have collected over 1 million signatures.
Media reports of a half-million dollar donation to the effort plus rumors of even more forthcoming are getting the attention of California’s political establishment. If the required 1.5 million valid signatures are submitted before the mid-March deadline and subsequently verified, a special election will be held and California voters will soon thereafter vote on the recall.
That is, unless the California Legislature pulls another fast one as it did in 2017, passing a last-minute change to the rules or the election calendar.
Any such attempt would be extremely unwise, with public confidence in government already low.
On the ballot, the recall question would be accompanied by a separate question of who would replace the incumbent if the recall passed. (In the October 2003 recall election of Gov. Gray Davis, a total of 135 candidates were on the ballot as replacement candidates, including pornographer Larry Flynt and former TV child star Gary Coleman).
Recalls are not easy and are fraught with many unknowns. They are expensive and the complicated politics of multiple replacement candidates, each seeking a plurality of votes, makes the state’s “jungle” primaries seem simple by comparison.
Polling is unreliable in such an environment, and there’s a Wild West atmosphere to the process. Nonetheless, recalls are a legitimate political remedy when the public loses confidence in an elected official. At least a million Californians have reached that point.
Irrespective of whether support for the recall is broad based or narrow among California voters, it is clear that the effort is being greatly assisted by Gov. Newsom himself.
Where to start? First, the gross mismanagement of the Employment Development Department has been breathtaking. While unemployed Californians have been given the run-around when they seek the benefits to which they are entitled, fraudsters have been allowed to rob the system of more than $8 billion, according to recent estimates.
Second, the state’s distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has been a disaster. Despite months of advanced notice, the lack of a coherent plan on distribution has put California near or at the bottom relative to other states in the percentage of vaccines that have been delivered to the Californians who are waiting for them.
Third, the ever shifting and arbitrary metrics that have prohibited the safe reopening of businesses and schools have caused unnecessary confusion in both the private and public sectors.
Fourth, property owners were profoundly and rightfully disappointed that the governor refused to consider suspension of costly penalties for delayed payments of property taxes, even as job losses mounted, housing providers struggled to pay their bills without rental income, and commercial property owners saw their tenants shut down by state orders.
Fifth, Newsom refused to consider a deferment of the scheduled minimum-wage increase while so many service and hospitality businesses were desperately trying to keep their employees working in compliance with the state’s limitations on their ability to operate.
Sixth, property owners were stunned to see his endorsement of Proposition 15, the most significant attack on Proposition 13 in its 42-year history. The $12-billion “split roll” initiative was defeated in November, notwithstanding his support.
Finally, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s personal behavior has revealed little sensitivity to the struggles of Californians who have been asked to make extraordinary sacrifices. The infamous dinner at the French Laundry restaurant is but one example of his perceived hypocrisy.
Citizens bristle when politicians say “do as I say, not as I do.”
It would be foolish to venture a prediction about the recall effort’s success or failure.
But the outcome may well be determined by the governor’s own actions if they continue to raise legitimate questions about his competence.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.