Credit: Solena Aguilar | Mustang News

Gov. Gavin Newsom is fighting for his political career as a Republican-backed petition to recall the California governor recently surpassed the signature threshold to qualify for an election.

At the time this article was written, at least 1,626,042 of the petition’s signatures have been verified by the Secretary of State’s office, which is more than the 1,497,709 signatures required to trigger a recall election. 

The petition was created just before the pandemic struck in February 2020. Backed by activist group Recall Gavin Newsom, the petition website lists several grievances against the governor: “Unaffordable housing. Record homelessness. Rising crime. Independent contractors thrown out of work. Exploding pension debt. And now, a locked down population while prisons are emptied.”

After the pandemic hit, Newsom’s stay-at-home orders have drawn additional criticism from backers, especially when Newsom was seen mask-less at a restaurant with lobbyists, despite his regulations against social gatherings.

Now that the petition has surpassed the signature threshold, those who signed the petition have 30 days to withdraw their signatures, ending on June 8.

If enough verified signatures remain by the end of the withdrawal period, an election will be held, likely in the fall of this year.

On the ballot, voters will be asked two questions: whether they wish to recall Newsom or not, and if they do, which candidate should take his place. If more than 50% of voters vote “yes” to recall Newsom, whichever replacement candidate receives the most votes will assume office within 28 days. The replacement governor would then remain in office until the end of Newsom’s term in January 2023.

The long list of candidates running against Newsom range from former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer to former Olympic gold medalist and transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner.

The recall would be a plurality vote rather than a majority vote, meaning that a replacement candidate does not need to receive more than 50% of votes to win — only the most votes out of any other replacement candidate. 

In the event that Newsom is recalled, the winning replacement candidate could have potentially received fewer votes than the number of votes that favored keeping Newsom in office, according to political science professor Michael Latner.

There has only been one previous governor recall election in California history — in 2003 when Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was replaced with Republican candidate and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was re-elected in 2006 and went on to serve for two terms.

The 2003 recall election was a unique circumstance, as most recall elections fail, according to Latner.

“You had the unlikeliest of events where you had a megastar with near universal name recognition throw his hat in the ring,” Latner said. “It was a very unique set of circumstances that led to Davis’s recall. We’re seeing almost the opposite this time around.”

According to Latner, a successful recall of Newsom is unlikely, as the governor has a relatively high approval rating (around 56%), which is significantly higher than Davis’s rating was when faced with a recall.

Additionally, Latner believes that a dynamic, popular replacement candidate has yet to emerge.

“A recall is kind of like poker — you can’t replace something with nothing,” Latner said.

In an Instagram poll posted by Mustang News, 27% of respondents supported the recall election while 73% of respondents opposed. 

Political science graduate and sitting co-president of Cal Poly Democrats Rob Moore joins the majority in opposition of the recall. He said he opposes the election due to a lack of justification. 

“While I think Gavin Newsom has … been hugely irresponsible and not shown good leadership in a lot of ways … I think that a recall is not justified,” he said. 

Moore believes that the recall is a poor use of finite resources. 

“Gavin Newsom is inevitably going to have to spend time and attention on this recall that could be used to help people get enough food to eat or find houses for people experiencing homelessness,” he said. 

Moore said that the upcoming recall election capitalizes on fear during the pandemic and serves as an attempt to keep Trumpism alive in California. 

Alternatively, industrial engineering sophomore Ben Haering signed the petition for a recall and hopes to see Newsom replaced with a more moderate candidate. 

Haering said he has concerns that the farming communities in central California are not having their voices heard, and a more moderate candidate would cater to rural communities. 

Despite his hope, Haering does not foresee California voters removing Newsom from office. 

He signed the petition to express his dissatisfaction with Newsom and let him and other politicians know that frustrated citizens will take legal action. 

“[The recall election] is just to let him know that not everyone approves of what he’s doing,” Haering said. 

Disagreements with COVID-19 mandates fueled discontent with Newsom among many petitioners. While Haering agreed with some of the earlier lockdowns, he believes California could have been more lenient with restrictions in recent months. 

“Yes, people should be wearing a mask and social distancing,” Haering said. “But, I feel like there could have been more facilities open.” 

Political science junior Jake Goldman believes that the motion for a recall election began pre-COVID-19 as conservative opposition to liberal politics in California. However, closures due to the pandemic incited disapproval of Newsom’s policies from moderate Californians as well. 

“It started off as … conservative pushback to the liberal trends California has been exhibiting in recent years,” Goldman said. “Once you got into COVID[-19] issues, a lot of people who were more in favor of reopening were mad at California’s government for choosing to remain a little more closed off in attempts to curb the spread of the virus.”

Goldman agreed with Moore that the recall election is unjustified. While he does not believe Newsom’s actions merit a recall, he can see why people assumed corruption after Newsom attended a birthday dinner for his friend, who was a lobbyist, while he told Californians to obey COVID-19 guidelines. 

“I don’t think it was very becoming of our governor to preach mass mandates, and then be photographed going to a dinner with lobbyists without a mask,” Goldman said. 

He said that this kind of behavior exhibits the type of governmental corruption people associate with politicians, even if Newsom himself is not corrupt. 

Even if Newsom is recalled, Goldman does not foresee “a huge swing in a conservative direction.” He said that California has typically supported progressive candidates in the past which would indicate the likelihood of an elected progressive governor in the future.

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