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Democrats seek a change in California recall elections, and it could help an embattled state senator

State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton). (Rich Pedoncelli/Associated Press)
State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton). (Rich Pedoncelli/Associated Press)

State Senate Democrats introduced legislation Monday to change the rules governing recall elections to remove a lawmaker from office, potentially helping one of their own survive an effort now underway in Southern California.

The proposal, contained in one of the bills enacting a new state budget, comes after backers of an effort to remove state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) from office have submitted more than 31,000 voter signatures to trigger a special election.

"Recalls are designed to be extraordinary events in response to extraordinary circumstances – and it's in the public’s overwhelming interest to ensure the security, integrity and legitimacy of the qualification process," said Jonathan Underland, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

The bill would effectively give people new ways to block recall efforts by allowing a 30-day window for any voters who signed the petition to change their mind and have their signature be removed. Elections officials would then have 10 days to update their tally, and each signature would have to be verified manually. The proposal would then give lawmakers 30 additional days to review the financial impact of a recall election.

In total, all of that could delay any special election to remove a lawmaker by more than two months. And the language of the legislation makes the change apply to the current effort to recall Newman.

Supporters of the effort to oust Newman, a freshman senator who eked out a narrow win last fall, blasted the budget-related bill as a blatant effort to protect a single lawmaker.

"They can't simply rewrite the rules," said Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman and current radio talk show host who's leading the effort. "They want to push this election off for as long as possible."

DeMaio predicted a lawsuit will be filed to block the change from taking effect, assuming it is signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown later this month. The recall campaign has focused almost exclusively on Newman's vote in favor of the $52-billion transportation plan that hinges on an increase in gas taxes, scheduled to take effect in November.

Republican legislators were equally critical of a change in state election law being added to state government's annual fiscal plan.

"The Democrats know the gas tax is toxic and Newman will likely lose," said Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley). "They control every thing in California and need to rig the system to protect their political power."

Newman, who said he didn't participate in writing the provision, said recall proponents are falsely promoting their signature drives as a way to stop the gas tax -- and that voters should be given a chance to strike their signature from the petition if they were misled.

"What we're seeing in my case is how susceptible this system is to manipulation, to distortion," he said.

Update 3:05 p.m. This story was updated to include comments from Assemblyman Mayes and Senator Newman.

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