Essential Politics: Making California’s recall about Trump

Donald Trump
Donald Trump in 2017.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

This is the March 15, 2021, edition of the Essential Politics newsletter. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox three times a week.

One of the enduring stories about the historic 2003 gubernatorial recall election is the barely restrained pandemonium of having 135 candidates on the ballot as options to serve out the three years left on the second term of then-Gov. Gray Davis.

But if the effort to force a recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom makes it to the ballot, the most intriguing political figure may be the one whose shadow looms large for the governor’s friends and foes.

That would be the political shadow of former President Donald Trump.

Newsom vs. Trump: the recall edition?

Few things have been more constant during Newsom’s 26 months as California’s governor than his antipathy for the former president’s policies and politics. Democrats have made it clear for months they’d be happy when the day arrived that they no longer talked about Trump.

But that was before the looming recall effort against Newsom, whose supporters say they’ve collected more than 2 million voter signatures to trigger a special election this year. It’s now clear that Democrats want voters to see the effort through a partisan political lens.


“Let’s call this recall what it is,” Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) said. “This is a partisan, Republican attempt to grab control. This is something that is being driven by many Trump supporters, by national Republicans.”

It’s worth noting that Trump, still exiled from social media, hasn’t said anything about the Republican-led effort to fire a governor with whom he sparred over immigration, homelessness and wildfire prevention while in office. But that’s beside the point to Newsom’s allies, who know the former president is persona non grata to a broad majority of California voters. Make “recall” synonymous with “Trump,” the thinking goes, and the effort may fizzle.

The recall effort’s leaders have begun to push back on the idea that their campaign is about anything other than Newsom’s record of governing.

“We’ve done an internal study on a number, a large number of signatures” gathered, Orrin Heatlie, an official proponent of the recall, said last weekend at a news conference in Sacramento. “And it shows that 31.5% of the people that have signed this petition are other than Republican and that is significant.”

Of course, it also means more than two-thirds of the voters in that survey were Republicans.

Look for more in The Times this week on the hopes and fears of both sides if this becomes a Trump recall election.

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And speaking of the recall...

Wednesday marks a milestone in the effort, as it’s the final day that voter petitions can be submitted to elections offices in California’s 58 counties.

From there, the counties will have 43 days — until the close of business on April 29 — to review the validity of signatures and report the totals to Secretary of State Shirley Weber. If the tally meets or exceeds 1,495,709 signatures, a 30-day period begins for any voters who have had a change of heart to withdraw their signature.

A series of other deadlines would follow from there. The bottom line: If there are enough signatures, expect a special election to be held this fall.


Meanwhile, the recall movement has found a natural home in rural Northern California, reports Hailey Branson-Potts. As she writes from Yreka: “As the effort gains steam, it feels like a win for this part of the state.”

National lightning round

— Biden on Sunday passed up an opportunity to join other Democrats calling for the resignation of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is under investigation after multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

— Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday he wished Trump would use his popularity among Republicans to persuade his followers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday pledged swift work by Congress on a jobs and infrastructure package that she said would be “fiscally sound” but might not attract Republican support.

— Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist who once encapsulated his time in Congress by writing a book titled “Outsider in the House,” has now become the consummate insider and power broker in the Senate.

— As Democrats continue to lose votes in small towns, they’ve seen clear gains in regional hubs that dot stretches of rural America.


— In Afghanistan, Taliban militants could threaten major cities unless the Biden administration can progress on a peace deal by May, top U.S. commanders said.

— Just 900 U.S. troops remain in Syria, working with allies in a nation torn by civil war. The president appears in no rush to leave, fearing an Islamic State resurgence.

Today’s essential California politics

— California counties that have refused to sign onto the state’s new COVID-19 vaccine program run by Blue Shield of California are expected to instead reach a separate agreement with the state to end a stalemate that threatened to slow delivery of shots.

— Newsom’s State of the State address has drawn criticism from some lawmakers for avoiding any mention of serious problems at the state’s unemployment agency that have kept more than 1 million jobless Californians from getting the benefits they need.

— California’s state budget will receive a cash infusion of $26 billion under the COVID-19 relief bill that Biden signed Thursday, sparking demands for a wide array of new efforts to help those hit hardest by the pandemic.

— Millions of California workers are staring down the pandemic with no clear access to an economic safety net if they take time off, a situation that is deepening the state’s COVID-19 crisis and galvanizing policymakers to extend sick-leave mandates.


— L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former LAPD officer, is running for mayor in 2022, joining a race that includes City Atty. Mike Feuer and is expected to attract other council members.

— Former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs has accepted an unpaid advisory role with Newsom to help coordinate economic mobility and opportunity in California, with a focus on the Central Valley.

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