Essential Politics: The Newsom recall effort’s big week ahead

Gov. Gavin Newsom wearing a mask
This is likely the week that the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom clears its first ballot hurdle.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

This is the April 19, 2021, edition of the Essential Politics newsletter. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox three times a week.

Let’s not beat around the bush: Political watchers expect the effort to force a recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom to cross the threshold this week from rabble-rousing to reality, as signature verification efforts are close to wrapping up in elections offices across California.

That’s not to say we’ll know everything this week about how or when a gubernatorial recall would happen. But the biggest accomplishment in this historic political effort to date — meeting the mark on voter signatures — appears to be just days away.

1,495,709 signatures

Newsom’s critics were tasked with gathering and submitting 1,495,709 verified voter signatures — equal to 12% of all ballots cast in the last gubernatorial election — to trigger a recall election before the end of the year.

At the outset, success was unlikely. Most California recall petitions fizzle, and the effort launched by Orrin Heatlie, a retired sheriff’s sergeant with no political experience, faced long odds in challenging a governor who won with a historic 62% of the vote in 2018.


But that was before a barrage of criticism aimed at Newsom over his COVID-19 pandemic policies and an intimate (and now infamous) mask-free celebration at a Napa Valley dinner last fall. Then came a little-noticed court ruling that cited the constraints of a public health crisis in granting recall proponents an additional four months to collect signatures.

Which brings us to this week.

Registrars in the state’s 58 counties must submit a new tally of recall petition signatures on Monday, in advance of the final signature verification deadline April 29.

The trend line looks like this week’s report will hit the mark. In fact, the mark was probably hit weeks ago. Just applying the signature validity rate in last month’s tally to the raw number of signatures submitted at the time would have cleared the hurdle. Recall organizers went on to pad their efforts with what they say was an additional 300,000 signatures.

The report from California Secretary of State Shirley Weber in a few days should confirm that the Democratic governor’s critics will succeed in triggering the state’s second gubernatorial recall since 2003 and only the fourth in U.S. history. Newsom, who has already conceded that the recall election will happen, is busily raising money from donors for a campaign to fight back.

What happens next in the recall

Once the signature threshold is met, the timeline will come into clearer focus, though there are several more steps before a recall election can be called.

The earliest Weber could certify a special statewide recall election would be mid- to late August, after voters who signed the petitions are given time to withdraw their signatures and state officials crunch the numbers on the cost to conduct the election. Combined, those steps 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.

Add it all up, and a gubernatorial recall election would be held no earlier than Nov. 2 and as late as Nov. 30, just five days after Thanksgiving.


In politics, that’s a lifetime from now. How Californians will feel about their governor by late fall is anyone’s guess. Regardless, we’re on the verge of a major moment for recall supporters and Newsom.

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Asking voters to change their minds

As mentioned earlier, California’s recall rules allow voters who have signed the petition to change their minds. Once all signatures have been examined, voters will have 30 business days to contact their local elections office and remove their name from the recall petition.

Given the number of signatures gathered and the assumption that most of those voters are staunch Newsom critics, the signature removal option seems unlikely to stop the recall’s momentum.

Still, Don Perata, a former president pro tempore of the state Senate, is trying.

The Bay Area Democrat has launched a signature withdrawal campaign — with a twist: He wants public disclosure of the names and addresses of the California voters who signed the petitions.

“We have been contacted by countless California voters who can’t recall whether they specifically signed the recall petition,” Perata said in a written statement last week. “If they did, many of them told us they weren’t told clearly by paid petition gatherers the cost or the timing of the recall. They now want to remove their signatures.”

While there’s no provision in state election law requiring such disclosure, a state Senate committee gave early approval last week to a bill by state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) to do that. If enacted, it would allow the target of a recall to access the voters’ information, though it wouldn’t take effect until 2022 and would not apply to the Newsom recall.

(The issue is personal to Newman, who was recalled in a 2018 special election after voting for a new state gas tax and replaced by a Republican, then defeated that same GOP lawmaker to reclaim his seat as part of big wins by Democrats last year.)

As for Perata, he’s signaled that he’s willing to ask a court to force disclosure of information about voters who signed the recall petition if neither the anti-Newsom campaign nor elections officials agree to do so.

Waiting in the wings

The inevitability of the recall probably explains the flurry of early activity by potential replacement candidates.

It started with a trio of Republicans — 2018 candidate John Cox, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and former Rep. Doug Ose — and now has generated interest from celebrities.

Reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, who is also a Republican, has attracted a substantial amount of attention after reports that she’s pondering a recall run. So have two celebrities who were candidates in the 2003 recall election: former adult film actress Mary Carey and L.A. billboard maven Angelyne.

Notice anyone missing? A Democrat, perhaps? Party loyalty — and the belief that a prominent Democrat could give voters tacit permission to oust Newsom — has, for now, prevailed. But that hasn’t stopped the speculation about former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a gubernatorial challenger in 2018.

Villaraigosa didn’t respond to an interview request from my colleague Dakota Smith for her story last week. But she uncovered a fascinating quote from the former mayor and Assembly speaker, his description of what he says to those who wonder whether he’s relieved not to be governing during the pandemic’s tumult.

“I say, ‘Obviously, you don’t know me,’” Villaraigosa said. “Because if you did, you would know I want to be right in the middle of all of it.”

National lightning round

— Several Republicans with national ambitions are openly laying the groundwork for presidential campaigns as former President Donald Trump continues to mull his own plans.

— Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland rescinded restrictions Friday on the Justice Department’s use of consent decrees to force police departments to reform.

— Embattled Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz‘s friend, Joel Greenberg, was a lightning rod for controversy even before his arrest.

— The State Department’s internal watchdog has concluded that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife violated federal ethics rules by asking staffers to run personal errands and perform nonofficial work.

Today’s essential California politics

— California officials say they do not plan to require vaccine verification, but new rules incentivize private venues to seek proof of tests or inoculation.

— Newsom signed a bill Friday requiring hotel, event center, airport hospitality and janitorial employers to first rehire workers laid off during the pandemic when jobs become available after vetoing a more expansive labor-backed bill last year.

— California legislators have pushed ahead with reforms targeting the state’s troubled unemployment agency while condemning another significant error that has interrupted benefit payments to thousands of jobless residents.

— Under legislation that moved forward Tuesday in Sacramento, law enforcement officers could lose their certification based on the decisions of a panel that includes victims of police misconduct. Lawmakers also supported an expansive ban on policing techniques that obstruct a person’s breathing.

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