Source: Flickr

California is a remarkable state for many reasons. Beautiful beaches, Disneyland, significant agricultural contributions, Hollywood. As one of the largest states in America, and the largest economy in the United States, it stands to reason that there might be some unusual laws on the books that don’t make sense for other states. That rule applies to the political sphere as well.

Liberal California Politics

California politics lean towards the liberal, with many state policies that wouldn’t pass muster in more moderate or conservative states. These policies surround hot button topics such as immigration, healthcare, livable wages, and more.

Source: Wikimedia/Sörn

Many of these policies have been signed into law since Gavin Newsom was originally voted into office back in 2019. He won his election to the gubernatorial seat handily, with a margin of 32 points over his Republican opponent. He was, and is, a highly popular Democratic elected official among liberals and moderates in California, which has allowed him to push some more radical policy changes in the state.

Multiple Recall Attempts Against Newsom

Unfortunately, no government official can make everyone happy, and since Gavin Newsom was elected into office, he has been subject to not one, not two, but six recall attempts on his election into office. Many of these attempts haven’t gone anywhere, but there was one effort that was successful in making it past the first stage of recall.

Source: Wikimedia/Office of the Governor of California

This recall attempt, which took place in 2021, was led by a conservative organization called Rescue California. Various issues were cited as the reason for the recall attempt, including sanctuary policies, homelessness, high taxes, and water rationing.

About Rescue California

Rescue California is a conservative-leaning group that, in the past, has campaigned against various California state policies, and has advocated for multiple gubernatorial recalls. They were behind the 2003 recall attempt that ultimately forced the resignation of Governor Gray Davis, and led to the installation of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the leadership seat.

Source: Wikimedia/National Archives at College Park – Still Pictures

The 2021 recall attempt came at the same time as discontent was rising regarding California COVID policies. The political motivation that came from this period where obligatory masking and stay-at-home orders were in place worked against Gavin Newsom, leading to Rescue California’s recall attempt making its way past the first stage of recall.

An Unsuccessful Recall Attempt

The recall attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, though not through lack of effort. The press surrounding the recall was enormous, and drove a significant amount of turnout to a special election. Special elections, along with midterm and local elections, tend to have significantly lower turnout than major elections like the Presidential election.

Source: Wikimedia/Government of California

This particular recall attempt was sold as an existential threat by the Democrats, though, a line of messaging that was particularly successful in driving turnout. More than 12 million Californians showed up to vote in the recall election, leading to Gavin Newsom winning the election in a 23-point landslide.

A 20th Century Law

The law that allows for these types of citizen-led election recalls goes back over a hundred years. In 1911, progressive Republican reformers in California introduced direct democracy with the recall option, and the initiative and referendum processes. These propositions were introduced alongside other sweeping democratic reforms such as women’s suffrage, and were intended to restore the “people’s rule.”

Source: Wikimedia/King of Hearts

Since the recall option was introduced in the 20th century, there have been almost 200 different attempts to recall a government official in the state. The only successful recall attempt is the aforementioned recall of Governor Gray Davis in 2003, though every single governor in California has been subject to some form of recall attempt since 1960.

Conservatives Incentivized

Conservatives in the state of California have not been deterred by the lack of success regarding their recall attempts towards Gavin Newsom. If anything, it appears to have incentivized conservative groups, including Recall California, to work harder in spreading their message and rallying the people of California against Newsom.

Source: Wikimedia/Government of California

In pursuit of that, yet another recall attempt has been introduced against Newsom in the Golden State. This recall attempt is being pushed, yet again, by Rescue California, though the reasoning behind the attempt is a little different than the recall effort of 2021.

Distracted by the Presidential Election

Recall supporters this time around believe that Gavin Newsom has become distracted by what many see as presidential ambition. The past year, he has been campaigning on behalf of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in their 2024 election campaigns, and many believe that he is running a type of shadow campaign, should Biden ultimately not be able to run for office for any reason.

Source: Wikimedia/Office of the California Governor

Anne Dunsmore, the campaign director for Recall California, detailed the problems with the governor in a statement. “He’s exhibited an inability to take care of problems very quickly when he feels like it. He cleaned up a city in three days, he fixed a freeway in less than 2 weeks. He needs to stick it out and not leave California to do other things, especially in the state that we’re in.”

Projected Budget Deficit

Other problems have come up as the reasoning behind the recall, as well. One significant issue that has been pointed to is a projected deficit in the California state budget. It is believed that the yearly state deficit will be more than $70 billion this year, though state officials claim that number is inflated due to still-incoming tax revenue.

Source: Wikimedia/Government of California

“Gavin Newsom has abandoned the state to advance his presidential ambitions, leaving behind a $73 billion budget deficit and a public safety, immigration, and education crisis,” said Dunmore. This summarizes many of the talking points that conservatives have been using to attack Newsom, with varying levels of effectiveness.

An Attempt to Bleed Newsom Dry?

Critics of the recall process claim that the political issues at hand are not the reason behind the recall, at all. Many believe that the goal of these recall attempts is to bleed Newsom’s campaign budget dry, as recall elections can cost millions of dollars for the governor to defend himself.

Source: Wikimedia/Government of California

And, though it’s unlikely that this recall attempt will go anywhere, supporters of Newsom are worried for a different reason. Recall attempts in California are dangerous for the incumbent due to a significant quirk in the California recall process.

Two Questions on the Ballot

California recall elections have two questions on the ballot. The first question asks whether the incumbent governor should be recalled, at all. This is a yes or no question, and ultimately determines whether the answers of the second question are considered at all. If citizens vote for the governor to be recalled, then the election process moves on to the second question.

Source: Wikimedia/Office of the California Governor

The second question asks who should replace the governor, should he be recalled. The second question allows for any candidate to run for the replacement, without having to primary other candidates in order to get a spot on the ballot. The problem with the second question is that, for supporters of Newsom, they cannot select him as an option to take the gubernatorial seat, should the first question remove him.

An Unpopular Candidate Can Win

California laws state that the candidate who wins the most votes on the second question is the one who will take the seat. It doesn’t matter if they win the majority, if they win the most votes, then they are the de facto winner of the election, meaning that they take the governor’s seat.

Source: Wikimedia/Government of California

This means that a candidate who might not win the most votes in a general election could run for the office in a special recall election, and they would be able to win the seat with a significantly smaller base of support.

Republicans with an Advantage

In this way, Republicans have an advantage in recall elections. Theoretically, they could push a candidate who is less popular than Newsom, and still win the office due to this unusual structure of election in a recall.

Source: Wikimedia/Office of the Governor of California

If Republicans can gather enough support and muster an enthusiastic response from their base for this recall election, it’s entirely possible they could capitalize on Democratic apathy and unseat Gavin Newsom.

Unlikely, But Being Taken Seriously

The effort to recall Newsom is in the early stages, and still needs to qualify for a ballot before it can go through. Despite this, Newsom is taking the threat to his office very seriously. His office released a statement, saying, “These Trump Republicans are targeting Gov. Newsom because he is out there defending democracy and fighting for the reelection of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

Source: Wikimedia/JD Lasica from Pleasanton

Additionally, in spite of the challenges that come from a recall attempt in an election year, there is a silver lining. Newsom could ultimately use the recall attempt to create attention for himself and the Democrats, and showcase exactly what Republicans stand for in a deeply divided democracy. The recall is unlikely to succeed, but Newsom is gearing up for a battle just in case.