Thomas Elias: Unfair recall rules will persist
If anything seemed like a lock, a sure thing for passage during this year’s state legislative session, it was recall reform. The need for change in the way voters can rid themselves of state officials they can’t stand stood out as one of the key conclusions of last fall’s abortive attempt to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom.
It was obvious as this year’s legislative session began that the effort by conservative Republicans to substitute one of their own for Newsom via the patently unfair current rules was still fresh in all political minds last January. But not so much a few months later, as it turned out.
For voters will not get the expected chance to improve the current system via a ballot proposition this fall, as the cause lost its urgency, overtaken by time and the rise of other issues from A to Z, abortion to zero-emission vehicles.
So the next time there’s an attempt to oust an elected statewide officer or a legislator, things will work just as they did the last time:
There will be a yes-or-no, thumbs up or thumbs down, vote on the recall target. The recall ballot will also feature a list of would-be replacements for that person. If the recall gets more yes votes than no’s, the target will have to go. That will be true even if no replacement candidate gets anywhere near as many votes as the ousted officeholder.
That’s not democracy, it’s a travesty, and everyone knew it last fall. Newsom spared himself and California from ignominy by getting far more no votes on the go-or-stay question than replacement leader Larry Elder, a far-right radio talker, received on his part of the ballot. Newsom, in fact, reaped many more no votes than were tallied for all replacement candidates together.
If he had faltered only a little, Elder would now be governor, having received fewer than 25% of all votes cast. That would not deter him from exercising power, just as Donald Trump did despite his resounding popular vote defeat in 2016.
Among the new plans legislators considered but did not pass along to voters was one submitted by Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton, who was himself recalled in 2018, but then won his seat back two years later. Newman suggested a straight-up, yes-or-no recall vote, with a special election to follow if the yes side won. The ousted candidate would be eligible to run in that election, just like anyone else.
This would be similar but not identical to some local recall rules, as when voters nixed former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin in June. His successor was named by the city/county mayor, London Breed, but that system is unique because San Francisco is the only place where city and county lines are nearly identical.
Newman also proposed a plan to have ousted governors who have served less than two years replaced by the lieutenant governor until a special election can occur. If the incumbent were in the final two years of a term, the lieutenant governor would act as governor until the next regular election.
A plan like either of these would ensure fairness, but also prevent anyone with just a tiny bit of actual support from taking over an office.
Another potential reform that didn’t happen was a change in the number of voter signatures needed to qualify a recall for its own ballot. Last time, it took just 1.495 million, or less than 12% of the votes cast in the 2018 gubernatorial election.
A higher signature requirement would prevent a small minority from spurring a new election when there is no strong groundswell of demand for it. This happened last time, and the lack of an anti-Newsom tide was proven by the fact that the no side’s 61.9% of the total vote was precisely the percentage of votes Newsom won in 2018.
This also had the side effect of driving credible Republican candidates out of the June primary, leaving his reelection this fall all but certain.
Not exactly what the recall sponsors wanted, and plenty of evidence of the need for changing the rules.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit http://www.californiafocus.net
It is extremely rare for the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post to draw the same conclusions on almost any topic, but President Biden’s plan to forgive up to $20,000 in outstanding student loans…
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