California Democrats Consider Changes to State’s Direct Democracy System After Newsom Recall

Whether Governor Gavin Newsom survives the September 14 recall election or not, Democrats in the country’s largest state are considering big changes to the recall system.

“I have spoken to several key lawmakers who are ready to tear up the recall process and piece it back together,” Garry South, Democratic consultant and former senior political adviser to Gray Davis, told Fox News the governor recalled in 2003. “Two of the last elected Democratic governors have been the subject of recall elections in the past 18 years.”

Some of the changes under consideration include a malfeasance standard, increasing the number of signatures required to qualify a recall for the ballot, and requiring more signatures from the official targeted for the recall. State lawmakers have previously considered bills banning paying people to collect signatures, one to require voters to read a list of top contributors to a recall or referendum before signing a petition, and another allowing a politician facing a recall to run as a replacement candidate as well.


If Newsom is recalled, Conservative commentator Larry Elder leads among more than 40 replacement candidates – but has less than 30% in most polls. This could galvanize Democrats to push for changes to the state’s constitution. California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, appointed by Newsom who oversees the election, called for a higher signing threshold and questioned whether a candidate with less than a majority of the vote should be able to win.

Under the current rules, South said, the recall law is more advantageous for Republicans.

California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom and candidate Larry Elder, who is the current Republican frontrunner in the upcoming recall election.
(AP / Getty Images)

“It’s not about the pandemic. It’s not about homelessness. It’s not about wildfires. It’s not about The French Laundry,” South said. “Republicans haven’t won a statewide election since 2006. Republicans can’t win directly statewide, so they have to use the recall like a crowbar to open the back door. We should not have recalled the elections 14 months from a scheduled governor election. “

Beyond the recall, California is known for its direct democracy thanks to frequent referendums, which also at times angered Democrats with a two-thirds majority in the state legislature.


“Democrats in the legislature, since obtaining qualified majority status, have unleashed a relentless assault on direct democracy,” Jon Coupal, chairman of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association, an advocacy group told Fox News conservative rights. “The tools of direct democracy, put in place by one of the early progressives – Hiram Johnson – are a threat to the power structure and to an indolent legislature. “

Johnson was the progressive Republican governor in 1911 who helped introduce the recall provision into the state constitution.

Reducing the grounds for recall and increasing the number of signatures needed would only make it harder for citizens to hold public officials accountable, Coupal said.

“The Liberals and Conservatives both love the referendum and the recall,” Coupal said. “Even if they think the process is being abused, they won’t like a direct attack on it. Giving voters a choice is not a problem here. A lot of people are upset by a party’s iron fist. . “


A July poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 86% of those polled supported the recall. But 60% are backward allowing only the recall of an official due to illegal or unethical activity, and 55% support increasing the signature bar of 12% of voters who have voted in the past. 25% elections. In addition, the poll found that 68% were in favor of a run-off between the top two if none of the substitute candidates got more than 50% of the vote.

The state should consider a bipartisan commission to determine the recall reforms, said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California.

“No matter how [the recall election] turns out, it will take a lot of talk and bipartisan support for the changes, ”Baldassare told Fox News. “I understand that any substantive change requires the approval of the voters. We have a qualified two-thirds majority of Democrats in the legislature. But the changes would have to be bipartisan to gain legitimacy with all voters. “

Of the 20 states that allow voters to remove governors, most require a signing threshold of 25% of the number of voters who voted in the previous governor’s race, according to Ballotpedia, compared to 12% in California. Still, California has a much larger electoral base than most other states, so that might not be a completely appropriate comparison.


Besides California, only two states have ever held revocation elections for governors: Wisconsin in 2011 and North Dakota in 1921. These states and most others allow removal for almost any reason. But Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island and Washington require misconduct in the line of duty, or physical or mental inability to perform their duties, according to Ballotpedia.

Coupal said a Newsom win would make changes more likely.

“If Newsom wins big he may feel emboldened. If he barely hangs on, Democrats may think they need to make changes to prevent this from happening again,” Coupal said. “It’s a harder argument to make changes if the recall is successful. Then it looks like if they lose, they change the rules.”

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