Why California’s Governor Faces Possible Recall Vote: QuickTake

Photographer: Rich Pedroncelli/AP/Bloomberg

California, the most populous U.S. state, may hold an election later this year on recalling its governor. The effort to remove Democrat Gavin Newsom from office began before the pandemic but was fueled by his actions during it. A similar recall effort in 2003 succeeded in ousting California’s then-governor, Gray Davis, and former bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzennegger, a Republican, emerged from a pack of candidates as California’s new leader. That history gives outnumbered California Republicans some hopes of riding this recall effort back into power.

1. Why do some Californians want to recall Newsom?

This latest bid to remove him started in February 2020, just before the coronavirus began its assault on American lives and on the U.S. economy. The petitions calling for his removal cite a litany of complaints including high taxes and elevated homelessness rates, water rationing, an accommodative approach to undocumented aliens and opposition to capital punishment. It’s one of six efforts to recall Newsom since he took office in 2019.

2. How did Newsom handle the pandemic?

He was the first governor to order a statewide shutdown and was initially lauded for keeping infections relatively low. But a series of on-again, off-again stay-at-home orders since then has tried the patience of California residents and business owners. Reports last November of Newsom attending a lobbyist’s birthday dinner at a luxury restaurant with about 12 other people, maskless, didn’t help his public image. (He called attending that dinner “a mistake.”) His approval rating dropped to 46% in January from 64% in September, according to the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. A March poll by Emerson College found 45% approve of Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, while 44% disapprove.

3. So will there be a recall election?

It looks that way. The two organizations pushing the recall say more than 2 million Californians signed their petitions before a March 17 deadline. California’s counties now have until April 29 to count and verify signatures. If California’s secretary of state determines there are at least 1.49 million valid signatures — representing 12% of votes cast in the last election for the office — signers are given 30 business days to rescind their signatures, if they choose. Should the number of signatures remain more than 1.49 million, the recall vote goes forward. The date for the election is chosen by the lieutenant governor, Eleni Kounalakis. It would likely be in the closing months of 2021.

4. How would a recall election work?

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