Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

With Bitter Parting Shot, CA State Senator Confirms Voters' Wisdom

State Sen. Josh Newman cast a deciding vote in favor of a much-maligned and dramatic increase in gasoline taxes. He was promptly shown the door.

If voters had second thoughts about bouncing California state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton) from office in a high-profile recall election held during the June 5 primary, his self-centered stem winder on the Senate floor should disabuse them of any such regrets. I was left humming the chorus from a 1980s rock song: "Don't go away mad, but just go away." It wasn't the classiest way to end a short and undistinguished legislative career, but at least it's over.

"It saddens me colleagues, Republican colleagues, that despite all your nice sotto voce words, not a single one of you had the integrity, the decency or the courage to stand up and say … this is wrong, this is an abuse of the recall process," Newman said, comparing the recall to a "crazy dream." He complained that some colleagues sat "idly by" while others "actively abetted" the recall. "Getting someone recalled, getting someone thrown out of their job, getting somebody like me who only wanted to serve, expelled—it's pretty personal."

His words were highfalutin—the Italian phrase for "under the voice" was fairly sophisticated for a Senate floor speech—but his arguments fall apart upon examination. For starters, there isn't anything wrong or abusive about recalling a politician because of his vote. The recall process, like the initiative and referendum processes, have long been a part of the California Constitution, dating back to Progressive Era reforms advocated by Gov. Hiram Johnson.

The state Constitution's recall provision places procedural limits on how to recall elected officials, but it places no limits on the rationale for doing so. As the California Secretary of State's Office explains in its guide to recalling sitting politicians, "Recall is the power of the voters to remove elected officials before their terms expire. It has been a fundamental part of our governmental system since 1911 and has been used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives."

Voters clearly were dissatisfied with Newman, judging by the margin that removed him from office. Activists on both sides of the fracas figured it would be close. But the final tally had voters from Senate District 29, encompassing parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, rebuking Newman by a nearly 59 percent to 41 percent. They also overwhelmingly chose Republican Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar to replace him.

Despite claims by the Democratic majority, which went all in to save a seat that gave them a Senate supermajority, there was nothing deceptive or unclear about the purpose of the recall. Newman cast a deciding vote in favor of a much-maligned and dramatic increase in gasoline taxes and the vehicle-license fee. "Recall is the ultimate device of accountability between elections," said Carl DeMaio, the former San Diego councilman and radio host who led the effort. It was the "perfect weapon" to use in this case, he added, because the tax increases went into effect in April and voters were able to quickly communicate dissatisfaction with his vote.

Obviously, many other senators—including termed-out Republican Anthony Cannella from the Central Valley—voted in favor of the tax hike. But DeMaio and other recall backers were clear that they were implementing the "gazelle strategy." Lions can't take out the entire herd of gazelles, but they could pick off the weakest one. "This is a win for those in California who have lost hope," DeMaio noted. His forces are now focused on qualifying a measure for the November ballot that would directly repeal the taxes that Newman helped pass.

The fictional Chicago character Mr. Dooley would say, from the comfort of an Irish pub, that "Sure, politics ain't beanbag. Tis a man's game, an' women, childer, cripples an' prohybitionists'd do well to keep out iv it." Ignore the offensive and politically incorrect language, given that Dooley was the creation of writer Finley Peter Dunne in 1895. But the phrase was meant to say that political battles are really painful, unlike a harmless game of beanbag.

I'd be more sympathetic to the bruises that Newman endured had his Democratic cohorts not played such electoral hardball to help him. They passed a law that stretched out the time frame for a recall election by months in an obvious effort to rig the rules after the fact to benefit Newman. This law, which is being challenged in the courts, forces all recall votes onto regularly scheduled ballots and undermines this constitutional check and balance.

Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) defended the law because he didn't think the recall's focus on stopping the gas tax was "transparent and honest." But it's a crass form of politics to tinker with election rules because you don't like the arguments the other side is making.At least Democratic failed efforts to protect this seat remind us that Newman's parting words were little more than post-election blather.

This column first appeared in the Orange County Register.

Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. He was a Register editorial writer from 1998-2009. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.

Photo Credit: Hoffmann Photography/agefotostock/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    Here's an idea: recall every single politician and then leave all their seats unfilled!

  • Longtobefree||

    Sorry, they are ahead of you there.
    The only way to 'throw the rascals out' is to throw a different rascal in.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Every ballot needs a "none of the above" choice.

  • Ron||

    I actually wrote N/A on the write in portions of the last preliminary election

  • Wizard4169||

    If "NOTA" was a valid choice, I might actually vote.
    My proposal: If NOTA receives a plurality of votes, hold a new election with all candidates from the original election barred from appearing on the ballot. If NOTA receives an outright majority, leave the position unfilled until the next scheduled election.

  • TangoDelta||

    Yes, exactly this please.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I used to joke that every election should include a performance review for politicians who lose their job, where the voters determine how much their pension should be, if any.

    Wouldn't it be delightful if a recall also scuppered their pension and made them ineligible for any future government work of any kind?

  • Citizen X||

    Yes.

  • Rodduc||

    Perhaps they should work on recalling Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). Oh wait, he represents LA, that's a lost cause. Be funny though - start holding the politicians accountable for changing rules they don't like when it doesn't suit their needs.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    Perhaps they should work on recalling Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles)

    Isn't that the guy who admitted he had family members that committed identity theft?

  • Eidde||

    Yes.

    "Half of my family would be eligible for deportation under the executive order, because they got a false social security card, they got a false identification, they got a false driver's license prior to us passing AB 60, they got a false green card, and anyone who has family members who are undocumented knows that almost entirely everybody has secured some sort of false identification."

  • Rhywun||

    LOL "Trump order"

    Pretty sure half his family was eligible for deportation under The One, too.

  • BYODB||

    Wow...just wow.

  • Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing||

    Isn't that the "30 magazine clip" ghost gun guy?

  • Idaho Bob||

    Yes it is

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Better to work on expelling Los Angeles from the state.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    And let it become its own country (I wouldn't want it to become the 51st state - 2 Senators from that shithole? No thank you). I wonder how long it would take before they have to put up a wall to keep people from leaving?

  • Citizen X||

    "Getting someone recalled, getting someone thrown out of their job, getting somebody like me who only wanted to serve, expelled—it's pretty personal."

    Well then, Mr. Newman will no doubt also take it personally when i point out that he's an entitled crybaby and a mediocre human being.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    a mediocre human being.

    Mediocre? I think you're being too generous.

    If anyone knows his email address, they should email him this post so that he can see these comments. Although it would be better if we could see his reaction to finding out what people really think of him. Something tells me it would be comedy gold.

  • Citizen X||

    Righteous indignation untinged by self-awareness gets old pretty quick.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Newman cast a deciding vote in favor of a much-maligned and dramatic increase in gasoline taxes and the vehicle-license fee."

    I blame rape culture.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Me too!

  • Mickey Rat||

    Newman wanted to serve, he apparently does not think he was required to serve his employers well, by their lights.

  • Citizen X||

    It is an odd definition of "serve" that includes "drain more money from" and not much else.

  • Citizen X||

    You know, "voters' wisdom" is a phrase best served up sarcastically, but Newman's recall is proof that even a horde of blind squirrels will eventually bite somebody's nut.

  • Rhywun||

    The takeaway I get from this is that Californians will vote for all manner of schemes that reduce freedom and/or tax the everloving shit out of the other guy, but don't you dare touch muh gasoline.

  • Jerryskids||

    Not being familiar with the characters in this little drama, I'm not sure what the story is but it sounds to me like the voters were shocked and angry that somebody was demanding they pay for their free lunch. Socialism is the idea that somebody else should pay for the free lunch, this guy obviously knew nothing about how socialism works.

  • Harvey Mosley||

    Nobody was upset because he was "...demanding they pay for their free lunch." We were upset because the Democrats in California raised vehicle license fees and the gas tax. Supposedly this was to pay for roads but the money that we are already paying in gas taxes and license fees is continually siphoned off to pay for other things. Our illustrious "leader" Jerry Brown went so far as to say that those of us against these tax hikes were freeloaders because we didn't want to pay (again) for the roads. Of course even before the tax hikes officially began the Democrats introduced legislation to use the money for other things.

  • Mindscape||

    This. And the fact that they wanted to divert funds from this into the stupid, dead-in-the-water High Speed Rail Project was the killing blow. There was a massive radio and signature campaign to get this done, which the Dems tried to thwart with the new laws mentioned in the article. Not only should that law be blocked, everyone who voted for it should be recalled.

  • Jerryskids||

    Also, obligatory "Newman!" /seinfeld.jpg

  • Cynical Asshole||

    He complained that some colleagues sat "idly by" while others "actively abetted" the recall. "Getting someone recalled, getting someone thrown out of their job, getting somebody like me who only wanted to serve...

    Please tell me he at least choked up a little bit. Mmm, tears of unfathomable sadness!

  • CatoTheChipper||

    Sen. Josh Newman deserves a profile in courage, not a mean-spirited, Rethuglican-sponsored recall. This honorable man and his Democratic colleagues had to raise taxes on fossil-fuels to reduce CA carbon pollution.

    I don't see why the CA voters were so unhappy with this concrete step to save the planet. LA gas prices are only 30% higher than the national average. Obviously they can afford it as easily as they could afford to do without Trump's tax cuts.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Just to be clear, this is sarcasm, right? Or did Tony hack Cato's account?

  • albo||

    Hey, California Democrats, live by idiotic Progressive-Era policies, die by them.

  • What's that smell?||

    Sadly this is not limited to one party. I live in PA where we have the largest and most expensive (I would add most corrupt) legislature in the country. That has been controlled by republicans for at least 8 years. In that time they have repeatedly raised gas taxes, licensing fees, registration fees, tolls and the number of toll roads. I believe now we pay the highest gas tax in the country.
    They are so bold in their fleecing that when past Rep. Gov Corbet tried to rein them in they cut his balls off and let him wither on the political vine. Yet with the upcoming elections including Gov. the stupid party is running the classic fear mongering campaign against "tax and spend Democrats". I predict it will work.

    If it weren't so maddening it would be funny.

  • buddhastalin||

    In 2014, Nevada Republicans had control of the state House, Senate and governorship for the first time in many decades. They then proceeded to pass the biggest tax increase in Nevada history, even after voters had just rejected a very similar type of tax at the ballot box.

  • CDRSchafer||

    Hey but you can buy beer in supermarkets now. Amazed about that when I went back home.

  • Mock-star||

    HEY! We only have the fifth most corrupt legislature (according to Fortune, MS, LA, TN, and IL are 1-4) and the second highest gas tax. (Last Nov, CA went higher). But with a little hard work and some old-fashioned gumption we can take number 1 in both spots!

  • CDRSchafer||

    Why did we bother overthrowing the monarchy then go to all the trouble to elect entitled, arrogant, incompetent jackasses to lord over us anywayt?

  • Longtobefree||

    Good point. How do you like that taxation WITH representation?

  • NoVaNick||

    Its the evil Kochtopus who has snatched this enlightened servant of the people. After all, who else would remind the people that they have the un-Democratic right to remove a politician from office! /prog

  • Sevo||

    Nuts! Not my district, so I couldn't vote to throw him out.

  • BYODB||

    It never ceases to make me laugh when you have examples of Democrats, who think changing the Senate to direct election was a great fucking idea, go ahead and show exactly what they think of the people who are voting.


    Not that Republicans are better, but 'Democracy' isn't implied by their party name either.

  • johnl||

    We might have wanted to mention Carl Demaio's former association with Reason Foundation.

  • Longtobefree||

    It's Trumps fault!
    He invented the slogan "you're fired".

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    He'll be rewarded with a lucrative job as a lobbyist.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online