Recall Elections Give California Voters a Needed Check on Governors Who Abuse Their Power

California Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn't committed any crimes, but he deserves to face a potential recall for his disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.


As opponents of Gov. Gavin Newsom come closer to placing a recall on the ballot, some pundits have argued that voters should only boot a sitting politician for grievous misbehavior such as crimes and malfeasance. "Recalls should be reserved for elected officials who are corrupt or extremely incompetent," as The San Diego Union-Tribune recently opined.

That view is wildly at odds with how Gov. Hiram Johnson—the progressive governor who ushered in our state's initiative, referendum, and recall process—conceived it. "Suffice it to say, so far as the recall is concerned, did the solution of the matter rest with me, I would apply it to every official," Johnson said in his first inaugural address in 1911. Yes, he would have applied it to every officeholder.

Sure, our nation's founders were skeptical of direct democracy given their fear of mob rule. In "Federalist No. 10," James Madison worried that unchecked democratic passions would "wrest the scepter from reason." He had a point, but I've warmed to California's system for practical reasons and have edged much closer to Johnson's position.

While a (small-r) republican system that disperses powers with legislators is best, we're stuck with reality. California's poor level of representation and lopsided legislative districts make it tough to provide adequate checks and balances. For instance, each California Assemblymember represents more than 480,000 people—compared to around 3,200 people in New Hampshire. Without direct democracy, our leaders face little pushback.

Recent events highlight what Johnson was saying, especially during the pandemic. The governor has issued more than 400 executive actions on wide-ranging matters without any effective check on his muscle-flexing. The courts have reined in some of these edicts, but the governor continues to issue arbitrary orders that affect our livelihoods and freedoms. They seem based on gut feelings rather than science and he keeps moving the goalposts.

The Legislature has been like a deer in the headlights, standing idle as the governor rules by fiat. The only thing that has grabbed Newsom's attention has been the steady collection of recall signatures. Recall backers need signatures equal to 12 percent of the votes last cast for that office. They've recently surpassed that 1.5-million-vote threshold—but still need around 400,000 more to assure certification. The deadline is March 17.

After the recall gained well-heeled Silicon Valley backers, Newsom relaxed California's stay-at-home rules. The same "science" that mandated continued lockdowns had changed and "outdoor dining and worship services were OK again, hair and nail salons and other businesses could reopen, and retailers were allowed more shoppers inside," according to an AP report. The administration even lifted the veil of secrecy from its decision-making.

Republicans pounced on the change of heart. "He is losing political support up and down the state," said Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R–Fresno). The governor strongly denied that his policy changes had anything to do with the burgeoning campaign, but politicians rarely select a tie without considering its political ramifications. Sadly, the smart money is that the state's hapless GOP will squander this opportunity.

San Diego's former Mayor Kevin Faulconer, a fiscally conservative moderate who seems like a good fit for a state with Democratic majorities, has thrown his hat in the ring. He will run a "California comeback" campaign that focuses on the state's high poverty rates, poor schools, crumbling infrastructure, and debilitating business climate.

But John Cox, who may be on track to become the Harold Stassen of California politics (Google it), has run an ad that attacks Faulconer for some office-space deal in San Diego. Anyone should feel free to run, but Cox garnered only 38 percent in his matchup with Newsom in 2018. You'd think he would tout whatever benefits his candidacy brings to the table, rather than tear down a fellow Republican at this early stage.

The recall ballot contains two separate questions. The first is "yay or nay" on the recall itself and the second is to name a replacement. Voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 amidst rolling electricity blackouts, a vehicle-license-fee hike and soaring deficits. The ballot featured 135 candidates, some of whom were unusual (e.g., Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and actor Gary Coleman). Only a handful, though, received a consequential number of votes.

Democrats tried to unify against the recall, but then-Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante entered the race. Obviously, Arnold Schwarzenegger won by a large margin. If another Democrat breaks ranks and pulls a Bustamante and Republicans have a crowded field without a celebrity, California could recall its governor and replace him with someone even further to the left.

I'm still not sure whether Californians who are frustrated with Newsom's heavy-handed pandemic leadership should strike while the recall is hot—or prepare for the regularly scheduled election. Either way, I agree with Hiram Johnson. Every officeholder should always fear a potential recall—and for any reason that suits the public.

This column was first published in The Orange County Register.

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45 responses to “Recall Elections Give California Voters a Needed Check on Governors Who Abuse Their Power

  1. “disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic”

    Can’t be worse than Florida. Or Georgia. Or any state with a Republican governor.


    1. SleepyJoe has allowed 100,000 China virus deaths in ONE MONTH, as hasn’t lifted a finger to do anything about it. And now he is bombing innocent Syrian citizens.

      1. LOL

        Biden is literally shutting down the virus as we speak. Deaths in the past month are still the fault of Drumpf. (And Ron DeSantis.)


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  2. “California Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t committed any crimes, . . . ”

    How about conspiracy to violate constitutional rights?

    1. Burger King hasn’t committed any crime but if they don’t provide adequate value for my money I’m no longer eating there. Regarding governors, a recall is the equivalent to “I’m no longer eating there.”

      1. Absolutely. Recall ballots should be applied automatically during midterms.

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    2. Seems like that should count.

      At one point, nearly all of the bill of rights were being violated in CA.

      1. Well, not the third; yet.

  3. Really a pity we do not have the ability to recall terrible governors (or any other elected official, for that matter) in the People’s Republic of NJ. We need it badly. The buffoon who we have as governor did the same thing as Cuomo wrt nursing homes.

    Hopefully, Phailing Phil Murphy will be voted out of office this year because of his utter incompetence in managing the state through Covid-19. We have the highest per capita death rate in the United States in the People’s Republic. Nice going, Phil.

    1. If the Rs put up a decent candidate (a Christie clone isn’t going to cut it), Murphy is probably gone.

      And maybe whoever that person is will be a better campaigner than Guadagno was. Murphy and Corzine are both corrupt as hell, and both worked at the same wall street firm, and she didn’t point this out?

  4. The recall ballot contains two separate questions.

    Well there you go. Ballot initiatives can only have one issue so this recall petition can be thrown out. And if not for this reason, I’m sure there will be some other perfectly plausible reason to throw it out. The national news media has turned against Cuomo in New York, they haven’t yet turned against Newsom and the national news media is the one who decides.

    1. The best reason of all; (D)

    2. It’s the other way around. The party decides, and the national news media, being an organ of the party, follows.

  5. Maybe we ought to admit reality and go back to the Roman Republic custom of electing dictators for one year reigns, but with the twist that each election also grades the outgoing dictator, and if the satisfaction rating is less than half of all registered voters, the outgoing dictator is executed immediately, election night, not when the new dictator takes office, so there would be a period of a month or two of no dictator at all.

    1. The democrat giveaways would be a dozen times worse if we did that. The real solution is to thin the prog herd.

  6. I can’t wait to see Cuomo and Newsom out so I can throw that in the face of every progtard who screams Orange Man Bad.

  7. The last time there was a recall, we actually got a Republican in office. I’m not sure that could happen in 2022, and it probably wouldn’t change control of the legislature in Sacramento, but having a recall on the ballot would be likely to help the Republicans take the House in Washington DC. If we got all the regular Republicans voting for Republicans and a bunch of swing voters who are only showing up because they can’t stand the Democrat governor, that’s likely to go well for the Republicans in the state. Add to that, the fact that the part out of power almost always cleans up when a new president faces his first midterm, and 2022 is shaping up to be a bloodbath for the Democrats in the House.

    1. I’m not so sure Our Democracy will be any less Fortified in 2022 than it was in 2020.

  8. I still favor Madison’s standard and am generally skeptical of government-by-referendum. However, I also think that Newsom’s behavior clearly passes the Union-Tribune’s threshold of “grievous malfeasance”.

  9. The recall framework is useful even if Newsom isn’t recalled – as the article notes, the “science” in California has been trending towards fewer restrictions with every signature that goes on the ballot. We don’t actually need to get rid of him. So long as he’s perpetually in a state of fear of losing his job (and any prospect of future higher office), he’ll trend in the right direction.

    It’s gotten so bad here that you’re no longer tarred and feathered if you suggest that Florida has been doing as-well-or-better than California.

    1. Every governor needs someone following them around chanting “Thou art mortal!

      The lack of such a person explains everything you need to know abut Newsom.

      1. I’m surprised that Newsom, Cuomo, Murphy, Whitmer, et. al. haven’t invoked the divine right of kings yet.

        1. That right in California is reserved for and applies to Newsom’s advisors wives.

  10. at least Newsom is the fucking idiot you know … I would fear who’s next

    1. Governor Kanye.

      1. might work out better than Schwarzenoogie

    2. Gov. Schiff? I think he would actually be worse than Newsom.

  11. “California Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t committed any crimes…”

    Unless you count wilful violation of civil rights under color of law, such as preventing freedom of travel, association, religious worship, commerce, etc. 18USC242:

    “Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States… shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.”

    1. I wholeheartedly support the application of the death penalty in both his and Cuomo’s cases. I’m willing to piss mercy upon my governor, Jay Inslee, and sentence him to life in a SuperMax facility.

  12. Most things California that spread across America like contagions are nasty strains of political VD; but recall should widely spread, like Cowpox its negative effects are very mild but its protection against something much worse is powerfully beneficial. We should all be able to recall all bad government officials everywhere and should do so often from POTUS to beat cop.

  13. No doubt there’s some additional measures Newsom could have decreed which would have made his reign during the WuFlu scare worse, but he just couldn’t think of any of them.
    He’s simply not smart enough to look around and learn from others; he could have, for instance, killed thousands as did Cuomo.
    Missed opportunities…

  14. BTW:
    “California Gov. Gavin Newsom hasn’t committed any crimes,..”

    “Governor Newsom rewarded state contracts to companies that donated to programs at his request”

    1. I’m pretty sure he violated several covid protocols at the French Laundry.

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