It's official: Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom is on his way to facing a recall election.
On Monday, Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber announced that supporters have gathered more than enough valid signatures—1.6 million of them—to force a vote over whether Newsom will complete his term in office.
The state's last such recall election occurred in 2003, when Gov. Gray Davis—also a Democrat—was booted out of office by voters. Davis became increasingly unpopular due to his mishandling of an electricity crisis, which saw rolling blackouts during the summer heat.
Under Newsom, California has actually seen a return of summer rolling blackouts, but that's not the only justification for the current recall push. A number of voters are particularly upset about Newsom's reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has included unilaterally shutting down the state and tying reopening measures to hotly contested "equity metrics" and other politicized policies that seemed to have little to do with protecting public health.
Recall supporters still face an uphill battle. Yes, Newsom's overall popularity has taken a hit in the pandemic, but more than half of all voters still approve of his performance, according to a March poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. If the recall had been held at the time of the poll, only 40 percent would have voted him out. If the state continues to reopen, Newsom's support might not just hold steady but even start to increase.
Recall supporters also have another problem. Polling shows that Republicans heavily support the recall effort while Democrats heavily oppose it. Since Democrats overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans in the state, the math would seem to speak for itself.
On the other hand, summer is approaching and that might mean more rolling blackouts and related troubles, which might draw attention to Newsom's recently announced plan to completely ban fracking and phase out oil production within the state by 2025. Newsom's ambitious environmental agenda might end up hurting him at the polls if hundreds of thousands of people have to endure power outages during the hottest parts of the year.
So far, three Republican candidates have announced their intent to run as potential replacements should Newsom be recalled. They are businessman John Cox (who ran against Newsom in 2018 and lost by more than 20 percentage points); former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; and former Olympian turned reality television star and transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner.
More candidates will surely come forward and, yes, it's going to be a circus. Remember that when Davis was recalled, 135 candidates ran to replace him. Only four of them broke the 1 percent barrier. Three of those candidates officially ran as Libertarians, collecting a combined total of 5,887 votes out of more than 9.4 million votes cast.
Californians who signed the recall petitions have 30 days to ask the secretary of state to remove their names. If enough signatures remain after that, the state's Department of Finance then gets 30 days to calculate the election cost, then another 30 days to review those figures, and then it's up to the state's lieutenant governor to set the date for the actual recall election, which will fall somewhere between 60 and 80 days from the final certification of signatures. If all of that goes as planned, the recall election will likely take place sometime in September, October, or November.