California recall election is disaster for democratic values, threatens nation

California’s recall process has always been deeply flawed. The very idea that a sitting governor could receive 49% of the vote and still be replaced by a candidate receiving a significantly smaller percentage of the vote is mind-boggling. But in an era of voter apathy and Trumpist scheming, our largest state could be on the brink of catastrophe, one with national implications.

It is time to sound the alarm. Voters who rejected President Donald Trump by massive margins must now turn out to vote no on the recall to keep Team Trump from taking over.

How bad could it be? Imagine someone like Rush Limbaugh as governor of California.

That’s right. Polls show that if voters do not reject the recall, right-wing talk-radio host Larry Elder is likely to become governor.

California’s recall process is, frankly, a disaster for democratic values. There is no reason required to recall a governor. All that's needed is enough signatures to get the challenge on the ballot. Voters have two choices – vote yes or no for a recall, then select a new governor. If 50% of voters support a recall, then the candidate on the ballot who receives the most votes will become California's next governor. The winner does not need an overall majority.

Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder speaks to supporters during a campaign stop outside the Hall of Justice downtown Los Angeles Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.
Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder speaks to supporters during a campaign stop outside the Hall of Justice downtown Los Angeles Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Elder is a smooth talker, but that can’t hide his extremist record.

Elder has spoken against the minimum wage and family medical leave. He has stated that women make too much of sexism. And he thinks bosses should be able to ask women whether they intend to have children and discriminate against them if they say yes.

Elder has promoted white supremacist ideology. He believes it is a lie that racism is a problem in the United States. He blames young Black people killed by police for not being more deferential to officers. Elder insults Latino immigrants. He wants to deny Dreamers, young immigrants in the country illegally who were brought here as children, a shot at the American dream.

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He has also helped bring us some of the worst people in American politics. He mentored Stephen Miller, the notorious architect of the Trump administration’s ugliest anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Elder even told Miller, “I hope to live to see the day when you become president.” That is deeply disturbing.

Worse still, Elder is making it clear that he won’t let legislators elected by California voters stand in his way. He is planning to run the state like a king. He says he will declare emergency powers to suspend California’s environmental protection laws and fire thousands of teachers.

Elder tries to deflect criticism of his extremism by calling it a distraction from issues he would rather talk about. But his extremism is exactly what has right-wing leaders so fired up about putting him in office. Elder says he was talked into running by propaganda pusher Dennis Prager. He’s being promoted by fellow radio host Eric Metaxas, who hosted a “Stop the Steal” rally at which the head of the Oath Keepers threatened bloody civil war if Trump didn’t stay in power after losing the election.

Jack Hibbs, a megachurch pastor who has denounced Nancy Pelosi's politics as “demonic,” turned a recent Sunday service into a campaign rally for Elder. Hibbs recently asked God to forgive Californians “for sending people with antichrist worldviews to office, like Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris.”

And the implications go far beyond California. I hate to even think this, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein is 88 years old. If she were to leave office before the end of her term, Elder wouldn’t hesitate to replace her with a hard-right Republican. This would immediately put the Senate back into Republican hands and give Mitch McConnell the power to block everything we care about: climate change, voting rights, the pandemic response and, of course, President Joe Biden’s federal court nominations. It’s no exaggeration to say this would cause generational damage.

The state’s voters have repeatedly and strenuously rejected Trump and Trumpism. Someone like Elder would never come close to winning a normal statewide election. But the way the recall election works, he could end up as governor even if millions more Californians voted to keep the current governor than voted to elect Elder.

The prospect of seizing power in California has right-wing activists fired up to vote.

Mainstream and progressive Californians must match that fire. This is not a drill. Everything is at stake, in California and potentially the rest of the nation. Many of us know somebody who lives and votes in California. Talk to your friends and loved ones in the Golden State. Let them know they can’t sit this one out. Urge them to vote no in this recall calamity.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way. He is the former president and CEO of the NAACP and a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: California recall election threatens democratic values, entire nation