Dissecting the California Recall

Tuesday: We explore the historical, technical, logistical and financial aspects of the attempt to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.,


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Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference after the mass shooting in San Jose last week.Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

Good morning.

The coronavirus pandemic is rapidly receding in California, but for Gov. Gavin Newsom, at least one side effect has lingered: the Republican-led push to relieve him of his job.

How a Democratic star in the bluest of blue states could have ended up confronting a recall remains one of the more remarkable mysteries of the moment. In a perfect storm of partisan rage and pandemic upheaval, the effort to oust Newsom has become only the second recall attempt against a California governor to qualify for the ballot.

With only a few procedural steps remaining, a special election appears destined for autumn, or perhaps even sooner.

If you haven’t been paying attention to every detail — every reconsideration deadline, every Kodiak bear appearance, every Kruger mega-donation — we totally understand. So here’s the June edition of the California Recall Encyclopedia of 2021.

So what’s with California and recalls?

Direct democracy is a big part of the Golden State’s political identity. Since 1911, when California approved recalls as part of a sweeping Progressive-era reform package, 179 recall attempts have been made against state officeholders. Launching a recall effort in California is easy compared to most states, and every governor since 1960 has faced at least one.

But the vast majority of those efforts fizzle. California is enormous, with a population of nearly 40 million and at least five major media markets. The cost of campaigning statewide tends to thwart all but the most moneyed and determined critics.

Besides Newsom’s, only one other recall of a California governor, Gray Davis, has ever reached an election. Davis lost in 2003 to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went on to face his own blitz of attempted recalls.

How do California recalls work?

Twelve percent of voters registered in the last gubernatorial election must sign a recall petition. They don’t need to give a reason, but they often do. The petition must include at least 1 percent of the registered voters in at least five counties. Proponents have 160 days to gather their signatures.

The signatures must then be examined and verified by the California secretary of state. If the petitions meet the threshold — 1,495,709 valid signatures in this case — voters who signed get 30 business days to change their minds. Newsom’s critics have turned in more than 1.7 million signatures, and voters have until June 8 to reconsider.

After that, the state finance department has up to 30 days to determine the cost of a special election, a joint legislative budget committee has up to 30 days to weigh in, and the secretary of state officially certifies the petitions. Those calculations are underway, but the cost of a special election has been estimated at $100 million or more.

The lieutenant governor then has to set an election between 60 and 80 days from the date of certification. If the proposed date is close enough to a regularly scheduled election, the deadline can be extended to 180 days.

Who can run in a recall?

Candidates to replace the governor must be U.S. citizens and registered to vote in California, and must pay a filing fee of about $4,000 or submit signatures from 7,000 supporters. They cannot be convicted of certain felonies, and they cannot be the governor up for recall. They have until 59 days before the election to file.

The ballot asks voters two questions: Should the governor be recalled? And if so, who should be the new governor? If the majority of voters say no to the first question, the second is moot. But if more than 50 percent vote yes, the candidate with the most votes becomes the next governor. The 2003 winner, Schwarzenegger, only had 48.6 percent of the vote.


A rally in support of the recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis at the State Capitol in Sacramento in July 2003.Credit…Paul Sakuma

Who is challenging Newsom?

The most high-profile candidates are Republicans. No serious challenger has emerged from Newsom’s party.

The Republicans include Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego, and Doug Ose, a former congressman from Sacramento. Other Republicans include John Cox, a San Diego businessman who recently distinguished himself by touring the state with a live Kodiak bear, and Caitlyn Jenner, a reality television star and former Olympic athlete.

Who started the effort to recall Newsom?

Three sets of critics tried five times to recall Newsom before the sixth recall petition caught on in 2020. The first two groups were led by unsuccessful Republican candidates for Congress in Southern California, and the first papers were filed three months after Newsom’s inauguration in 2019.

All three groups were Trumpian conservatives who, at least initially, raised familiar arguments against the governor’s liberal stances on such issues as the death penalty, immigration, gun control and taxes.

The lead proponent of the current recall campaign was a retired Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant named Orrin Heatlie who had handled the social media for one of the earlier failed recall bids. He and his group, the California Patriot Coalition, took issue in particular with the Newsom administration’s resistance to Trump administration crackdowns on undocumented immigrants.

On the evening of Nov. 6, Newsom went to a birthday party at French Laundry, a pricey Napa Valley restaurant. After photos leaked of the governor mingling, maskless, at the restaurant, Newsom apologized, but Californians were outraged and Republicans were ecstatic.

Heatlie’s petitions, which had only 55,588 signatures on the day of the dinner, had nearly half a million a month after Nov. 6.


A sign calling for the recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom is posted next to an agricultural field in the Central California town of Firebaugh.Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Who is backing the recall now?

Heatlie says the 1,719,943 voters who signed his group’s petition are a grass-roots cross-section of Republicans, independents and Democrats who no longer trust Newsom. Their names are not public information, and petitions have not yet been formally certified.

Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker, has promoted the recall. Mike Huckabee, the Republican former governor of Arkansas, donated $100,000 through his political action committee.

John E. Kruger, an Orange County entrepreneur and charter school backer who opposed Newsom’s pandemic health restrictions on churches, remains by far the largest donor. Kruger, who has donated to candidates of both parties and is registered with neither, gave $500,000 to the recall shortly after the French Laundry affair.


Cristian Ruiz got his coronavirus vaccination shot at California State University, Northridge, after the state extended vaccines to walk-ins amid low demand last month.Credit…Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

What’s the latest?

The latest poll, done in early May by the Public Policy Institute of California, found that nearly six in 10 likely voters would vote to keep Newsom, and 90 percent of likely voters believe the worst of the pandemic is behind the state.

Supporters of the recall have raised approximately $4.6 million, and opponents have raised about $11.1 million, according to the nonprofit news site CalMatters. Thirty-seven candidates have officially announced their intention to challenge Newsom in the recall.

After nearly 3.8 million cases and more than 63,000 deaths, coronavirus infections are as low now as they were at the start of the pandemic, and 56 percent of Californians have received at least one vaccination shot. The state is running a record budget surplus as the stock market has soared and fewer white-collar Californians lost their jobs than expected. Reopening is scheduled for June 15.

Could this happen in other states?

Most states don’t allow recalls at the state level. If voters want a new governor, the argument goes, they can wait for the next election and vote. Only four gubernatorial recalls in U.S. history have even made it onto the ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures: in 1921 in North Dakota, in 1988 in Arizona, in 2003 in California and in 2012 in Wisconsin.

Fourteen governors faced recall efforts last year, according to Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at Wagner College’s Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform. Twelve recall campaigns focused explicitly on how the pandemic was handled. But only California’s got off the ground.

Here’s what else to know today


Relatives of the nine victims in the San Jose mass shooting were among those who gathered at a vigil at City Hall, including the family of Michael Joseph Rudometkin, 40. Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

A clearer picture has emerged of a mass shooter’s anger. Samuel Cassidy, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority maintenance worker who killed nine co-workers in San Jose last week before taking his own life, was a highly disgruntled employee who had angry outbursts on the radio system and had told his ex-wife he had wanted to beat up or kill his colleagues, The San Jose Mercury News reports.

A ransomware attack on the Azusa police put crime-scene photos, payroll files for officers and other highly sensitive material online, The Los Angeles Times reports.

A homeless man who was captured on video attacking an Asian-American police officer in San Francisco on Friday was being held on hate crime and other charges, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Amid a push to continue working from home as the pandemic wanes, developers in the San Joaquin Valley and other areas are racing to build homes in places that buyers used to regard as outside the limits of an acceptable commute.

The San Diego Union-Tribune tells the Memorial Day story of Rudy Martinez, a 22-year-old San Diegan and Navy sailor who was the first Mexican-American to die in World War II.

A San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy was shot and killed on Monday by a motorcyclist who had led the authorities on a chase in the Yucca Valley area. The deputy, Sergeant Dominic Vaca, 43, was a 17-year veteran of the department, ABC 7 reports.

It is a time of journalistic soul-searching at The Press Democrat in Sonoma County, after a wine country mayor resigned amid allegations of sexually abusing women. Its top editor admitted the newspaper failed to pursue the story when a reporter first brought forward the accusations. The reporter, Alexandria Bordas, left the paper and took the story to The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Motorists on one Southern California freeway got an unexpected visitor on Monday. A single-engine Cessna plane made an emergency landing on the southbound lanes of the 101 freeway in the city of Westlake Village, NBC4 Los Angeles reports.

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