As the effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom moves forward, candidates are lining to replace him. But there are host of questions about the process. Here’s your guide.
A California recall effort has collected enough signatures to trigger a historic 2021 election in which voters could remove Gov. Gavin Newsom from office.
It’s going to be a political spectacle. But it’s still not clear that it will match the wild ride of the 2003 recall that ushered Arnold Schwarzenegger into office. The current recall effort has some reality TV star power, but there are indications it won’t reach the drama of 2003, and Newsom appears to be better situated to prevent his ouster.
A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll of likely voters found most Californians — 56% — oppose recalling Newsom, while 40% support it. Conversely, a week before the 2003 recall, an LA Times poll found 56% of likely voters would vote yes on recalling Gov. Gray Davis, while 42% would vote no. Just 2% said they were undecided.
Still, it’s a humbling moment for Newsom, whose term in office has been dominated by responding to the pandemic as well as record wildfires and now a likely drought. His handling of the COVID-19 crisis — including his shutdown of the economy — emerged as a major issue fueling the recall effort. But Newsom’s governing style and liberal policies also are cited by recall proponents.
Here’s what to expect moving forward:
Have all the signatures been validated?
In all, Newsom’s critics gathered 1,626,042 valid voter signatures on recall petitions, according to the report issued Monday by Secretary of State Shirley Weber, which contains information collected from elections officials in California’s 58 counties as of April 19. Some signatures remain unexamined. The final report could be issued by Friday.
Before the recall can be certified by Weber, voters who signed the petitions will have 30 business days to withdraw their signatures, and state officials will crunch the numbers on the cost to conduct the election, steps that could take up to three months to complete. Only then can Weber issue her official certification, triggering action by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis to call an election within 60 to 80 days.
Voters will decide whether Newsom is recalled and, if he is removed from office, who should replace him. Newsom is barred from being listed among the candidates who can be considered if the recall passes.
When will California vote?
There’s no certainty on when the recall election will be held.
The Newsom recall is the 11th effort to remove a California officeholder in state history, but only the second since extra steps were added by the California Legislature in 2017 that could delay the special election until late fall.
Though a group led by Democrats is urging voters to remove their signatures — alleging many of them may not have realized the consequences and cost of a recall election — the odds are low that enough Californians will change their minds to derail the effort.
It’s possible voters could decide the governor’s fate as soon as October. But it’s more likely that the election won’t happen until November.
If Newsom is successfully recalled, what is the process to replace him?
Once the recall election is set, voters will be asked two questions on the ballot. The first is whether they want to get rid of Newsom. The second is if Newsom is recalled, regardless of how they voted on the first question, who do they want to replace him?
If more than 50% of voters support ousting Newsom, then the top vote-getter in the second question automatically becomes governor, regardless of how many votes that person gets.
What are the qualifications to run?
Candidates have until 59 days before the election to file papers to run.
Candidates must be American citizens who are registered to vote, or qualified to vote, at the time they obtain nomination papers. They cannot have been convicted of offering, giving or taking a bribe, embezzling public money, perjury or related crimes. They cannot run if they have served two terms as governor since Nov. 6, 1990 (so, no, Jerry Brown cannot run again). They must also pay a $3,916.12 filing fee or turn in at least 7,000 valid signatures, according to the secretary of state’s office.
The target of the recall — Newsom — is barred from appearing on the replacement section of the ballot.
Who is running?
So far, four prominent Republicans have announced that they are campaigning to replace Newsom:
- Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The 54-year-old served as a San Diego City Council member from 2006 to 2014, and as mayor from 2014 to 2020. The fiscal conservative and social liberal frequently touted his ability to get elected in a Democratic city; San Diego was the largest city with a Republican mayor during his tenure. He is tight with mainstream Republicans such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, which could potentially give him access to a trove of wealthy GOP donors.
Businessman John Cox. The multimillionaire, 65, made his fortune in real estate, investments and property management. He used his wealth to fund several unsuccessful runs for office — Congress in 2000, Senate in 2002, Cook County (Ill.) Recorder of Deeds in 2004, U.S. president in 2008 and governor of California in 2018. In that last contest, he spent $5.7 million of his own money on the race, and lost by a historic margin to Newsom.
The Rancho Santa Fe resident has also unsuccessfully pushed quixotic ballot measures such as vastly expanding the size of the Legislature and requiring lawmakers to wear the logos of their top 10 donors on the floor of the Capitol, as NASCAR drivers display the logos of their sponsors on their cars during races.
- Caitlyn Jenner. The Olympic decathlete turned reality TV star announced Friday that she is running, a move that invites immediate comparisons to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful run during the 2003 recall that ousted Gov. Gray Davis, though the action star had greater involvement in California policy before running for governor than the reality star does. Jenner, a transgender woman and lifelong Republican, has described herself as an economic conservative and social liberal. The 71-year-old flirted with running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 2018 but did not.
- Former Rep. Doug Ose. The multimillionaire made his fortune in real estate and represented a suburban Sacramento district in Congress from 1999 to 2005. When Ose was in the House, he supported efforts to make President George W. Bush’s tax cuts permanent and to stop automatic pay raises for members of Congress. He pledged to serve three terms, but then unsuccessfully ran for Congress again in 2008 and 2014. Ose also briefly ran for governor in 2018 but dropped out after seeing little interest from GOP donors or in the polls. The 65-year-old lives in Sacramento.
Other lesser-knowns are also emerging, such as:
- Sam Gallucci. The 60-year-old Republican started his career in technology, ultimately becoming the executive vice president and general manager of PeopleSoft. The company was acquired for $10.3 billion by Oracle in 2004. Gallucci then turned his attention to nonprofit and spiritual work, becoming the senior pastor of Embrace! Church in Oxnard. He also founded efforts to help at-risk women and children and migrant workers.
- Ric Grenell. Among the most prominent gay men in the Republican Party, Grenell served as President Trump’s acting director of national intelligence in 2020 and ambassador to Germany from 2018 to 2020. Now 54, Grenell previously served in the George W. Bush administration, and briefly worked on 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign. It was unclear whether he was ousted from the last role over derogatory social media posts or evangelical unhappiness with an openly gay man serving in a prominent role.
And then there are the publicity-seeking repeats from the 2003 recall:
- Billboard model Angelyne and retired adult movie actress Mary Carey have both announced that they are running. Expect more — the 2003 recall campaign attracted more than 130 candidates, including politicians, publishers and pornographers.
How about a Democratic challenge?
No major Democrat has joined the race — yet.
Newsom’s party wants to present a united front, which could boost its argument that the recall is a GOP power grab, seeking to accomplish through a special election what they can’t through a regular campaign. That would also avoid a repeat of the 2003 recall, when Davis’ allies believed then-Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s decision to run as a backup in case the recall was successful cost the governor Democratic votes.
However, other strategists argue that it is imperative to have a prominent Democrat on the ballot on the chance Newsom is recalled. Names often mentioned include former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and billionaire hedge fund founder turned clean energy proponent Tom Steyer. A decision to run could make them Democratic pariahs if they are unsuccessful — or their party’s savior if Newsom is recalled.
What do the polls show?
Newsom’s job approval rating among California voters has suffered, according to two independent political polls released in February. The surveys found that roughly half of voters gave Newsom good marks, down from 64% earlier in the year.
In a Public Policy Institute of California poll released in March, 56% of voters said they opposed the recall, 40% supported it and the remainder were undecided. The percentage of those who favored ousting Newsom was slightly above the support for former President Trump in California in the November election, when he received 34% of the vote.
California has seen major improvements in the COVID-19 fight in recent months and is rapidly reopening the economy.
Some experts said continued progress could help Newsom overcome the recall push.
“Its fate today looks much less possible than it did when this recall drive began in earnest,” said UC San Diego political scientist Thad Kousser. “But if there’s anything we’ve learned last year it is that things could change dramatically in another four months.”
The spectacle of the 2003 recall election fascinated people across the country, who were intrigued by California’s reputation as a far-out haven for sun-baked dreamers, celebrities and Hollywood wannabes — and political absurdity. More than 130 candidates hoping to replace Davis crammed the ballot, among them Hustler magazine founder Larry Flynt, former Major League Baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington and “Diff’rent Strokes” star Gary Coleman.
Whether this recall will have the same appeal remains a question.
How much will it cost?
Local officials from across California believe the cost of conducting the election could run as high as $400 million.
The estimate is four to five times higher than guesses bandied about in recent months and is equal to about $18 per registered voter, more than double what officials say was spent on California elections in 2018.
Counties already struggling to pay for pandemic-related services say they’ll need the state to cover any election costs.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times, a Lookout content partner.