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latest news Why recall reform stalled after California spent $200 million

Last fall, after state and local governments flushed more than $200 million down the toilet for a failed effort to oust Governor Gavin Newsom from office, there was all sorts of talk about reform. of the recall process in California.

Lawmakers discussed, hearings were held, academics intervened, and the state’s independent oversight commission gave recommendations to the legislature.

Then nothing more happened.

“I think a lot of the time it’s because the average legislator – and we’re the ones who are going to put this on the ballot through a constitutional amendment – won’t be remembered,” said the Senator Josh Newman, a Democrat from Fullerton who has been recalled in 2018 before returning to his seat in 2020. “So it doesn’t have the same level of urgency, especially as time goes on.”

Legislators also react to what they hear, or do not hear, from the people they represent. And, let’s face it, voters grappling with runaway inflation, a pandemic, skyrocketing gas costs and fears of a recession don’t see tinkering with California’s recall rules as a particularly urgent matter.

But the system needs to be fixed, or California could soon face another distracting and costly attempt to subvert the electoral process.

How pointless was Newsom’s recall attempt? Essentially, it amounted to a repeat of the 2018 gubernatorial election, which the Democrat won with 61.9% support. The same proportion, 61.9%, voted against his impeachment.

Millions, wasted.

The way it works now, a recall election takes place in two parts. Voters are asked whether a legislator should be removed from office and, if so, who should replace them. This second question allows the top voter to take office even if they are well below majority support — which is why outnumbered Republicans have found it so appealing to take on the governor.

The presence of that second question allows a political minority to try “to get out of a special election what you obviously couldn’t get out of a normal election,” said Newman, who introduced legislation to change things. so that only one question appears on the ballot – a straight up or down vote on the callback.

“We [would] always have the option of impeaching a corrupt or evil elected official,” said Newman, who was ousted after voting to raise gasoline taxes and vehicle fees. (Although it was really about Republicans denying Democrats their supermajority in the state Senate.) “But we removed the kind of perverse incitement that led to all this partisan warfare.”

Under its legislation, if a governor was ousted within the first two years of their term, the lieutenant governor would take over until a special election to choose a replacement. If the Governor had only two years left, the Lieutenant Governor would complete his term.

The proposal leaves many issues unresolved, but as Newman suggested, change is difficult. He once hoped to present his reform measure to voters in November, but legislative inertia makes that extremely unlikely. Its goal is now 2024.

The reminder is a legacy of the progressive era, one of the tools given to citizens to hold their elected officials accountable. Repeated polls have shown that Californians overwhelmingly like to hold that cudgel in their hand. (In recent months, San Francisco voters have fired their district attorney and three school board members.)

But 20th-century reform has proven ripe for 21st-century abuses, and the failed attempt by out-of-office Republicans to oust Newsom from office — nine months before he is due to face voters anyway — has highlighted many of its flaws.

Of the 19 states that allow their governor to be recalled, California is by far the most permissive, with an extremely low signature requirement. And there are no preconditions – no requirement for proof of malfeasance, corruption or criminality – to try to force an incumbent out of office.

In the entire history of this country, there have only been four recall elections for governor. Half of those have happened in California over the past two decades, which doesn’t seem like a coincidence given the ease of forcing a vote, the bounty paid to collect signatures and the backdrop of political polarization. more and more marked.

California’s independent monitoring agency, the Little Hoover Commission, recommended several changes. (And here things get a little wonky, which is another reason why reform efforts seem to have stalled. The process doesn’t inspire great passion, which is one of the reasons why you don’t see masses of protesters descending on Sacramento chanting, “No bifurcated ballots!”)

A proposal calls for raising the signature requirement from 12% of the vote in the previous gubernatorial election to 10% of the state’s registered voters, raising the threshold for forcing a recall. Another would prohibit recalls made during the first 90 days and the last six months of an office holder’s term.

Newman said various remedies were worth discussing, but cautioned that “there is a risk of trying to do too much.”

“The more you complicate things,” he said, “the easier it is for people to obscure” the issue and prevent anything from happening.

Still, a callback overhaul is badly needed, even though it may not be the most pressing issue at the moment. It is important that our elections are fair and that people respect the results and not try to overturn them just because they are unhappy with the results.

On this road is chaos and, at the very end, January 6, 2021. The country is still reeling from this horror spectacle.



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