Critics Of California Gov. Gavin Newsom Get Enough Signatures To Force Recall Election

An effort to recall the governor launched by a Republican and former sheriff’s sergeant in 2020 has garnered enough signatures to progress.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) enters a press conference following the opening of a new large scale COVID-19 vaccination site at Cal State Los Angeles on February 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Getty
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) enters a press conference following the opening of a new large scale COVID-19 vaccination site at Cal State Los Angeles on February 16, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. | Getty

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) could be pushed out of office more than a year before his term ends. 

An effort to recall the governor launched by a Republican and former sheriff’s sergeant in 2020 has garnered enough signatures to progress, the California Secretary of State announced on April 26. Organizers collected just over 1.6 million signatures in support of a recall election. The threshold they needed to meet was approximately 1.5 million signatures, or 12% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in 2018. 

“This now triggers the next phase of the recall process, a 30-business-day period in which voters may submit written requests to county Registrars of Voters to remove their names from the recall petition,” Secretary of State Shirley Weber said Monday. “A recall election will be held unless a sufficient number of signatures are withdrawn.”

If there are still more than 1.5 million voters signed on to the petition after the 30-day retraction period, the state’s department of finance will calculate how much it will cost to facilitate the election. Gov. Newsom has previously warned that a recall election “WILL COST CALIFORNIA TAXPAYERS 81 MILLION DOLLARS!” After the cost has been calculated, the secretary of state will set the date for the election. The recall election is expected to happen in fall 2021.

On the ballot, voters will be asked two questions: whether they want to remove Gov. Newsom from office, yes or no, and who they would want to replace him — which they can select from a list of candidates. Votes for the second question will only be counted if more than 50% of voters cast “yes” ballots to recall Gov. Newsom. If that happens, his replacement will be the person who wins the highest number of votes. There is no limit on the number of replacement candidates who can run on the ballot, so “in a crowded field with no clear frontrunner, coming first could mean getting far less than 50% of the vote,” CalMatters reported in a piece exploring whether the state’s recall rules are anti-democratic.

Caitlyn Jenner is one of the Republicans to put forth her name as a challenger. Others include a former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer and a businessman who Newsom defeated in 2018, John Cox.

Newsom responded to the news that enough signatures had been collected, saying “there’s too much at stake.”

“This Republican recall threatens our values and seeks to undo the important progress we’ve made—from fighting COVID, to helping struggling families, protecting our environment, and passing commonsense gun violence solutions,” the governor tweeted.

The response tracks with the messaging of an anti-recall campaign partially funded by the state Democratic party. The campaign, called Stop the Republican Recall, was launched in March 2021 and has the support of several key Democrats, including former presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), as well as House Reps. Ro Khanna and Katie Porter (both D-CA), who warn that the recall election will hinder the state’s progress in defeating the pandemic.

“Right-wing Republicans in CA are trying to recall Gavin Newsom for the crime of telling people to wear masks and for listening to scientists during COVID,” Sen. Sanders said in a statement on the campaign’s website.

“It’s not just a waste of time and money that could be used to fight COVID-19 — a successful recall risks slowing down our state’s efforts to end the pandemic as quickly as possible,” Rep. Porter said.

The current effort to push Gov. Newsom out of office is led by former Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant Orrin Heatlie, who cited the governor’s support of immigrants and taxes as reasons for the recall. And though Heatlie launched the effort in early 2020 before the coronavirus became a serious concern for the United States, a judge extended the amount of time that supporters could gather signatures (usually 160 days) due to difficulties associated with COVID-19. According to CalMatters, the extension kept the recall campaign “alive long enough to gain momentum.” Adding to that momentum: Gov. Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, which frustrated some voters — especially after he was photographed maskless at a group dinner with lobbyists in November 2020, when he was dissuading Californians from socializing. As CalMatters reporter Laurel Rosenhall put it: what “began as a far-fetched [recall] effort by Republican activists ... has turned into a credible campaign that could throw the Democrat out of office.”

As of April 19, 2021, supporters of the recall had raised just shy of $3 million. Major donors include investor John Kruger, real estate developer Geoff Palmer, and Chamath Palihapitiya, a venture capitalist and former Facebook executive. They also have monetary support from the California state Republican party and Mike Huckabee’s political action committee.

Nineteen states, including California, allow voters to recall a state official before their term ends. There have been 54 attempts to recall a governor in California, since the power to recall was added to the state’s constitution in 1911. Only one effort—the recall of Gov. Gray Davis (D) in 2003—has been successful. Davis was succeeded by actor and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won with 48.6% support out of a field of more than 100 replacement candidates.