California lawmakers are planning to propose changes to divisive recall process

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A supporter of California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
A supporter of California Gov. Gavin Newsom. David McNew/Getty Images

Josh Newman, a Democratic state senator representing parts of Southern California, lived through what Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) hopes to survive: a recall election.

Newman was recalled in 2018 and replaced by a candidate he beat in 2016, who received fewer votes than he did in the recall. He ran again in 2020, and reclaimed the seat. Next year, Newman said, he intends to propose a constitutional amendment that would change California's recall process for governor.

The way recalls work now, Californians vote to either keep or remove the governor, and then select a replacement candidate. The governor must win a majority of the vote to stay in office, otherwise they are replaced by the candidate who receives the most votes. Newman wants to change the process so if the recall effort is successful, the governor is replaced by the lieutenant governor.

California's recall law dates back to the early 1900s, when Republican Gov. Hiram Johnson wanted to curtail the influence the Southern Pacific railroad had in the state. The company, The New York Times writes, "all but owned the state's government and economy, controlling politicians, judges, and regulators."

To trigger a recall election of any elected official in California, opponents need to get enough signatures to equal 12 percent of the turnout in the last election for that office. Critics say it's easy for companies and special interest groups with millions of dollars at their disposal to pay people to collect those signatures from registered voters, and former California Gov. Gray Davis — a Democrat who was recalled in 2003 — told the Times he thinks the threshold should be increased from 12 percent to 25 percent.

Many Republicans have spoken in favor of the recall process, because they are in the minority in California and see it as one way they can have a voice. Kevin Kiley, a Republican state assemblyman and one of the candidates hoping to replace Newsom, told the Times he would "absolutely" oppose any changes to the recall process that would make it "harder or impossible to hold your public officials accountable."

This recall election is costing taxpayers $276 million, at a time when the state is dealing with massive wildfires, the coronavirus pandemic, and severe drought. Voter Frankie Santos told the Times after casting her ballot in Hollywood on Tuesday that the recall is "so dumb. It's so not a good use of resources."

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