Judge declines to block California governor from labeling recall elections a Republican, Trump-base effort
©WikiMedia (Office of the Governor of California)
Judge declines to block California governor from labeling recall elections a Republican, Trump-base effort

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Laurie Earl on Thursday refused to block California Governor Gavin Newsom from claiming in the official voters’ guide that the upcoming September recall elections was organized by Republicans and Trump supporters.

The recall elections in California, scheduled for September 14, would be the second effort to recall a governor in the state since the recall of Governor Gray Davis in 2003. California is one of only 20 states that allows voters to recall a governor, a process that can be triggered in the state by collecting signatures equal to only 12% of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election—i.e. approximately 1.5 million signatures of the near 20 million registered voters as of 2018.

Proponents of the current recall movement cited frustration over Newsom’s handling of the pandemic and related business restrictions, worsening housing and homelessness crises, and high taxes and cost of living, as reasons why they want Newsom removed from office.

However, Newsom has been praised consistently for keeping California ahead of the rest of the country in keeping infections low at the beginning and peak periods of the pandemic when other states were experiencing an explosion of cases and scrambling to get things under control. The state of California was also the first to lift most COVID-19 restrictions, remove the mask mandate for vaccinated people in most settings and fully reopen the state in June, all while maintaining a record state budget surplus.

Newsom has labeled the recall “the Republican recall” stating that it is driven by political extremists, anti-vaccine activists, and national GOP figures. Recall leaders filed this suit claiming Newsom lied in his ballot statement about the recall being organized by Republicans and/or Trump supporters and about the recall organizers abusing the recall process.

Judge Earl rejected the argument stating that there is a legitimate “argument that this recall is an abuse of a perfectly legal process…The recall is being held less than three years after a sizable majority of California voters elected Newsom Governor.” Thus, Judge Earl concluded: “while reasonable minds may disagree on the propriety of the recall…Newsom’s statement fell within the realm of legitimate political debate.”

In fact, Newsom is up for reelection in any event in 2022 while the California Department of Finance has estimated that the recall would cost the state $276 million. Many Democratic leaders including President Joe Biden, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders, and Georgia organizer Stacey Abrams have all publicly condemned the recall describing it an unnecessary waste of state funds.

Many labor groups and healthcare workers including labor leader Dolores Huerta have also publicly opposed the recall. On the other hand, major proponents of the recall include Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and the California Republican Party.

With the voter turnout expected to be low in recall elections, commentators state that Newsom faces a tough challenge even with a sizable number of Californians being opposed to the recall. Additionally, many voters  are unfamiliar with ballot format itself, which asks two questions: 1) Should the elected official be removed from office; and 2) If the official is removed, who should take their place?

Anyone who answers no to the first question is still forced to proceed to the second and pick a candidate. Failure to do so will count in favor of the opposing party. In other words, if more than 50% vote for the recall and those who voted against the recall failed to pick a different Democratic candidate in the second question, the opposing party will benefit because Newsom will “not” be listed as a choice in the second question.

As many as 46 candidates are on the recall ballot to replace Newsom, including celebrities, YouTubers, a shaman, a college student, and San Francisco State University political science lecturer and secessionist Michael Loebs. Republicans constitute the majority of the candidates.

Judge Earl’s ruling, which is seen as a win for Newsom, was tentatively announced Wednesday and made final Thursday. A gubernatorial recall election has been triggered only four times in US history with only two leading to removal of a governor from office—Davis in California in 2003 and Lynn Frazier in North Dakota in 1921.