Monday, February 12, 2024







        If anything seemed like a lock, a sure thing for passage during last year’s state legislative session, it was recall reform. The need for changes in the way voters can rid themselves of officials they no longer want was one key takeaway from the abortive 2021 attempt to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom.


        Not that the recall attempt hurt Newsom. It gave him both a chance to campaign for an extra few months and the added status of having crushed a movement to oust him. Traditionally, both have strengthened candidates who survive such attacks.


        But recall reform went nowhere last year, and its fate this year is essentially unknown. Both last spring and right now, the recall reform efforts have been spearheaded by another recall survivor, Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton.


        Newman was recalled in 2018, but then won his seat back two years later. He suggested a straight-up yes-or-no vote for recalls, with a special election to follow when the yes side wins.


        This would differ somewhat from many local recall rules, as when voters in San Francisco in 2022 nixed then-District Attorney Chesa Boudin, with his successor named by the city/county mayor, London Breed. That system is unique because San Francisco is the state’s only locale where city and county lines are nearly identical.


        His last recall reform effort having failed, Newman is back with a new plan, focusing especially on gubernatorial recalls, of which California has seen two in the last quarter century – Newsom was not recalled, but in 2003, then-Gov. Gray Davis was emphatically removed, with muscleman actor Arnold Schwarzenegger taking his place after coming in first in a field of 135 replacement candidates.


        In both the Davis and Newsom recalls, voters faced two questions: First, did they want the incumbent removed, and second, who should replace him, with no limit on the number of replacement candidates.


        Almost two decades later, the no side easily won and the votes for potential replacements became largely irrelevant. Meanwhile, leading replacement candidate Larry Elder drew 3.5 million votes, or 28 percent of the 12.8 million cast. But more than 5 million recall election voters did not bother voting for a replacement candidate.

        Seeing all this, Newman proposed a plan last year to have ousted governors who have served less than two years replaced by the lieutenant governor until a special election can be held. Only one question – the recall itself – would face voters in future elections.      

It was somewhat surprising that this planned state constitutional amendment got nowhere in the Legislature, as it would have made lawmakers a bit more difficult to recall than they are now.

It’s anyone’s guess what will befall Newman’s newest measure, which quickly passed the state Senate in a 31-7 vote. It awaits action in the Assembly, where Newman’s previous effort was killed.

Like his previous effort, the new measure – a proposed

state constitutional amendment that, if passed, would appear as a proposition on the November ballot – would set up a system considerably more democratic than today’s.


        Under today’s system, if Newsom had lost on the first question, the yes-or-no vote on dumping him, Elder would have replaced him even if Elder got far less votes than the no’s recorded on question one, which were essentially votes to keep Newsom.


        Newman claims his new plan, which allows the lieutenant governor to take over if a governor is removed, is far more democratic. He also claims it would keep recalls personal, preventing them from being diverted into “political opportunism and gamesmanship.”


        Of course, it would also take some of the fun out of recalls, which have featured candidates from former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer to Republican Kevin Kiley, an former state assemblyman who used his recall candidacy to propel him into a congressional seat. There were also gadfly entertainer Angelyne and Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt.


        Removing lists of potential replacements from recall ballots would make them far less entertaining and engaging, but also more democratic and serious-minded. So, for sure, if Newman’s latest proposal makes the fall ballot, future recall elections would be a lot less flashy than the last few have been, but also far sounder.     

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It"


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