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Recalling a Governor Shouldn’t Be This Easy (Washington Examiner) February 27, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

As if leading the largest state in the union through the pandemic and guiding the world’s fifth-largest economy through troubled waters weren’t enough, California Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a distracting and expensive recall campaign.

Although Newsom has less than two years remaining in his term, it only requires signatures from 12% of those who voted in the last election, in this case 1.5 million out of more than 22 million registered voters, to put the recall question on a special ballot. Whether you like the job the governor is doing or not (and voters are split: 46% saying they approve, 48% disapprove according to a recent poll), do we need yet another election?

The answer is no. Recalls should be extraordinary remedies, not merely do-overs of the last election for those who cannot wait for the next one. But if you have enough money to gather signatures, you can probably force a recall election. In California, that means just a small handful of billionaires and other Silicon Valley moguls. The Republican Party (like all politicians these days, more interested in winning than in good governance) has also chipped in. With over 1.1 million signatures so far, and a deadline of March 17, the odds are good that there will be a special election this fall.

California is 1 of 20 states that allow a governor to be recalled. History teaches us, however, that Gov. Hiram Johnson and the Progressives who enacted the recall provision were concerned about checking powerful special interests, especially the railroads, that might corrupt the political process. Presumably, a recall was to be used when the representative system became corrupt and tyrannical, not simply disagreeable.

Beyond Newsom’s decision to dine at the swanky French Laundry restaurant during a lockdown, there is no allegation of misconduct against him. People have simply become frustrated by the lockdowns and vaccine rollouts.

The costs, however, are real. Quite literally.

Besides the money to collect signatures, estimates suggest that the special election will cost $80 million to $100 million. There’s also the political distraction concern. California faces huge problems, but this will be a major distraction for months. Then, there is the second question on the ballot. After asking whether Newsom should be recalled, the ballot asks, if he is recalled, who should replace him? The last time California went through this drill, a veritable circus of 135 people, including a pornographic actress, made it to the ballot.

The familiar lesson: There is little constituency left for good governance. Prudence and moderation, words that filled the Federalist Papers, are never heard in politics these days. Now the mantra comes from the late Al Davis, owner of the Raiders football team: “Just win, baby.” If we have another shot at damaging a member of the opposite party and perhaps removing him from office, then we will take it, regardless of the cause or the consequences.

Voters, how about exercising a little judgment and moderation? Parties, how about developing a little patience and waiting for the next election? Political leaders, how about raising the bar for extraordinary tools such as recall, requiring as many as 25% of voters to call for it?

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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