The state of California is famous for having all manner of issues decided by placing propositions on the ballot. Its state constitution also has a provision in which any statewide office holder can be removed from office and replaced. All that is required to trigger such an election is for just 12% of the number who voted in the previous election to vote in favor of a recall. That has just happened with governor Gavin Newsom, who won election to the position in 2018 with more than 60% of the vote. The vote will be held later this year.
The recall effort is led by Republicans who opposed Democrat Newsom’s pandemic shutdowns and mask mandate, as well as his immigration and tax policies. The campaign has tried to distance itself from its ties to far-right groups, including QAnon, following the deadly 6 January attack on the US capitol.
This article explains the process in great detail. Voters will be asked two questions: Do they want to recall Newsom? If more than 50% of voters say “yes,” who should replace him? The second vote will only be counted if the first one has a majority ‘yes’ vote.
There’s no limit on the number of candidates who can run to replace an official on a recall ballot. And whoever gets the most votes wins — even without a majority. So it’s entirely possible that someone could be elected in a recall while winning less than half the votes. That’s what happened in 2003, when then-Gov. Gray Davis was recalled by 55% of voters. More than 100 people ran to replace him, carving up the votes and allowing action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger to win with 48.6% support.
This provision seems weird to me since it is entirely possible that the person who gets the plurality might get far fewer votes than the number who voted to retain Newsom.
Observers say that 2020 is very different from 2003 and that the recall effort faces much higher hurdles this time around.
The state has trended evermore blue since 2003. Every statewide elected official is now a Democrat, along with more than two-thirds of the Legislature and the vast majority of the congressional delegation. That has supplied a deep pool of endorsements for Newsom as the party unifies behind him.
Democrats also account for 46 percent of the registered electorate versus just 24 percent for Republicans — a difference of nearly five million voters. That gap has widened significantly since Schwarzenegger was on the last recall ballot: back then, Democrats had a much smaller advantage of about 8 points, or about 1.3 million voters. All of that buoys Newsom.
Recent polling shows clear majorities of voters approve of Newsom’s performance and don’t want to oust him — a position he owes to solid support among independents and the overwhelming backing of his own party. Newsom was elected in 2018 in a resounding victory over Republican businessperson John Cox — the largest landslide for a non-incumbent since 1930, and one that saw Newsom win even formerly conservative strongholds like Orange County.
Already there are plenty of candidates, none of them Democratic, who have said they plan to try and replace Newsom. The most high-profile so far is reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner who is running as a Republican. It beats me how a transgender person can run on the ticket of a party that is so hostile towards the LGBTQ+ community and is particularly vicious towards the transgender community. In 2020, she even supported and voted for Trump who was one of the worst people on this issue.
While the 2003 winner was a celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger, he had been involved in Republican politics before the election, whereas Jenner is a blank slate, apart from her embrace of Trump (she has hired people from his campaigns), which is something that her opponents will surely use against her in this state that is not Trump-friendly at all.