Our View: A recall result plain from the start
The whole state should have seen what was coming with the recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
A Democratic governor in a heavily Democratic state pushed to a recall under rules allowing for a bare minimum of signatures. A few Republicans rose to the top, shaking their fists and promising a new day for California. The politicking had begun in earnest.
The game board was set, except everyone knew who was going to win, or was fooling themselves.
The writing was on the wall, at least for the last few weeks before the election. The loyal troops rallied under the governor’s banners, boosting once dismal polls and handing Newsom a massive win.
It’s almost as if Gomer Pyle had returned for one more show, amazed at the obvious: surprise, surprise, surprise.
Now that it’s over, we can see what the recall accomplished. For one, it resulted in the expenditure of some $276 million in taxpayer dollars. For another, Newsom’s enemies just gave him a mandate for the remainder of his first term and wind in his sails for what, at least for right now, appears to be a successful run for reelection.
The recall also did wonders for enhancing the name recognition of some Republican politicians who no doubt are looking to higher office.
But it also did exactly what it was supposed to: Give the people the choice of whether to remove an elected official.
Of course, the expenditure on a failed effort looks foolish in hindsight. How couldn’t it? But what cost do you put on letting the people have their voices heard at the ballot box? Should that right be pushed aside depending on what the polls state? Should we forego a recall because Democrats have a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans? Would Newsom supporters feel different if those numbers were reversed?
Or do we just remove the recall option entirely; let the Legislature start impeachment proceedings, which would be even more partisan and vicious than a recall; or wait until the person’s term is up and then try to vote them out?
Representative democracy is a messy business. No one said it would be easy, but it can at least be more efficient and just a bit fairer.
The threshold of signatures required to start a recall — 12% of turnout in the previous governor’s election — is too low. Also, no reason is required to recall a governor. At least with impeachment some reason, like alleged criminal acts, is given. With a recall, people can just be unhappy, as opposed to wanting to remove someone for violating the law.
Recalls are rare. Not all states provide for them, and you don’t see them too often in those that do, including ours. However, that’s no reason to allow the system to continue unchanged. If you see a problem, fix it.
And one potential fix is to just wait until the next election.
We get the chance every four years to remove a governor. Additionally, they’re term limited. There’s no fiscally prudent reason to hold a recall because a governor is unpopular. Wait. You’ll get your chance soon enough.
However, the recall is a power the people have, and there’s no reason the voters of California should relinquish it. Having the power doesn’t mean it should be used on a whim, though, especially when only 12% of turnout is needed to invoke it.
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth putting real effort into it. Having a threshold of, for example, 20% or 25% like some other states would show there’s truly a strong movement behind the recall effort, and provide a better argument for spending the money required for the election.
The pundits, voters and officials of this state will be dissecting the recall for months, if not years. There will be a push to reform the recall process, which will stall and ultimately get buried when the newest flashpoint emerges. A decade from now it’ll be a curious footnote in state history.
All this should really be no surprise surprise surprise. After all, we really should have seen it coming.
The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com
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