Californians Decide Newsom’s Fate in Historic Recall Election
(Bloomberg) -- Californians are heading to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to oust Gavin Newsom in only the second gubernatorial recall election in state history.
Voters are being asked two questions: whether to keep the first-term Democrat, and, if he is removed, who should replace him from a field of more than 40 candidates. At stake is the top job in a state that’s an economic engine for the rest of the U.S. and a policy leader on issues from the environment to employee benefits.
Recent polls indicate Newsom has the support to survive. But a loss or close race in a state where Democratic registered voters outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1 could signal trouble for the party nationally in the congressional midterms and the 2024 presidential election.
“Voters would be sending a message loud and clear, do your job or get out of the way,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a Democrat, said in an interview.
Newsom and his backers have framed the election as a power grab by supporters of former President Donald Trump. The recall’s proponents argue that it’s necessary because the governor has failed residents on issues such as taxes, immigration, criminal justice and homelessness.
Here is what you need to know about the election in the most-populous U.S. state.
How It Works
Newsom will lose his job if more than half of voters answer “yes” to the question on if he should be removed. His successor will be the candidate that receives the most votes in the next question on who should replace him.
If the recall is successful, a new governor would be sworn in after the election results are certified on Oct. 22. That person would serve the rest of Newsom’s term, which lasts until January 2023. A regular gubernatorial election will be held in November of next year.
What Are the Chances of a Recall?
Newsom, who was elected with a landslide 62% of the vote three years ago, is fighting for his political future. He and other Democratic leaders took a big gamble by not putting another high-profile member of the party on the ballot.
Recent polls show the 53-year-old former San Francisco mayor keeping his current job by a 10-point or more margin, with national Democrats including President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders rallying behind him. All registered voters received mail-in ballots, which likely will help to boost turnout among Democrats.
But anything can happen on election day. About 10% of respondents to a poll released Sept. 10 by the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies said they plan to vote in person on Sept. 14 -- and more than three-quarters of them were in favor of the recall.
“We won’t know until the end how turnout will match up to the polls,” said Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy in Sacramento. “Because it’s a special election and there’s only one item on the statewide ballot, gauging what the electorate is going to look like is difficult.”
Newsom has higher approval ratings than Democratic Governor Gray Davis did in 2003, during California’s first gubernatorial recall. Voters in that election turned to movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, as a replacement. No such prominent candidate appears in this year’s slate.
The list of rivals looking to replace Newsom is long and colorful. It includes Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, famous-for-trying-to-be-famous billboard personality Angelyne, and 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee John Cox, who has been touring the state with a live bear and a campaign message to “unleash the beast.”
Polls show the two leading contenders are those that came with their own built-in media following. Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, 69, leads the pack, making him potentially the state’s first African-American governor. In second place is Kevin Paffrath, a Democrat who gives investment advice on YouTube to his 1.7 million followers. He has recently been campaigning with a pitch that the state’s water shortages could be aided by a pipeline from the Mississippi River.
Newsom, who by law can’t appear as a replacement candidate, has urged supporters to leave the second question blank.
The recall election is expected to cost taxpayers $276 million, according to a July estimate from California’s Department of Finance.
Big-name donors to Newsom include Netflix Inc. Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs.
“Trump-supporting Republicans in your neighborhood are voting,” reads one recent mailing paid for in part by contributions by Hastings. “It’s time to return your ballot.”
Los Angeles real estate developer Geoff Palmer and San Francisco-area financiers Chamath Palihapitiya and David Sacks are among the largest contributors to the recall effort. Sacks said in a Bloomberg Television interview this month that he supports the recall to draw attention to California’s many issues and “send a message to the political elite.”
Impact of a New Governor
Should Newsom lose, whoever takes his place will have the opportunity to influence policy including who sits on the California Air Resources Board, which sets emissions standards for automakers. Other agencies supervise work rules in a state whose biggest employers include tech and entertainment giants such as Walt Disney Co., Apple Inc., Google and Facebook Inc.
A Republican would confront a legislature with a supermajority controlled by the Democrats, making it difficult for some laws to get passed.
“I’m going to sit down with the lawmakers, as Governor Pete Wilson advised me to do, and let the Democratic lawmakers know that they should empower, embrace and include Republicans when they deliver, when they deliberate, when they consider legislation to make the legislation more common-sensical,” Elder said in an interview with Bloomberg. Wilson, a Republican, governed California in the 1990s.
Elder also said in a radio interview that he would name a Republican senator to replace 88-year-old Dianne Feinstein should the Democrat be unable to serve out her term -- a move that would flip control of the U.S. Senate.
Since Newsom wouldn’t vacate until next month, he could still sign recently passed legislation. That includes a housing bill that would allow for more high-density building, and a measure to decertify police officers for serious misconduct.
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