Column: Why I didn't vote for any of the candidates in California's joke of a recall election

Kevin Faulconer, Left, Larry Elder, right Elder- AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
It's infuriating to think you might need to vote for Kevin Faulconer, left, just to keep Larry Elder, right, out of the governor's office. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times and Marcio Jose Sanchez/ Associated Press)

I got my ballot in the mail last week, but in a fit of pique, I didn’t vote on Question 2.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, I’m talking about the second question in the two-part recall election that we’re conducting here in California. The election is underway and ends on Sept. 14.

As far as I’m concerned, this whole recall is a big, unpleasant joke. Set in motion by a group of Trump-loving malcontents, it offers us an extra, unscheduled opportunity to vote against Gov. Gavin Newsom — in the middle of his first term no less — even though he hasn’t done anything particularly wrong.

It’s a circus, but it’s also seriously problematic. It could leave us with a new governor supported by only a tiny portion of the electorate. It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It may be unconstitutional. What’s more, it’s entirely unnecessary, since the regularly scheduled election is only a year away.

California has only recalled one governor since the option was added to the state Constitution 110 years ago. That was in 2003. That year, there were 135 random candidates vying to replace Gov. Gray Davis, including a pornographer, a sumo wrestler, some college students and an action hero movie star. The movie star won.

That was not a great outcome. And now, we’re doing it again.

Here’s the way it works. The first question on the ballot asks: “Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?” The second asks voters to select a candidate to replace him in the event he is recalled, offering a long list of candidates who have met the state's minimal candidacy qualifications.

Even if you vote no on the recall you may vote for a Newsom replacement. Your 46 choices include former Olympian and Wheaties spokesperson Caitlyn Jenner; perennial candidate John Cox, the guy who's running around the state accompanied by a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear and an 8-foot-tall ball of trash; pink Corvette-driving self-promoter Angelyne, and a crop of others you've mostly never heard of. Newsom cannot run to replace himself.

Perhaps the two most likely-to-win candidates are Kevin Faulconer, a former Republican mayor of San Diego, and right-wing talk show host Larry Elder. Another recent poll showed Kevin Paffrath — who has a million and a half followers who watch his real estate and finance videos on YouTube — at the top of the heap.

When I opened my ballot, I was utterly depressed by the possibilities.

There were Republicans I disagreed with. There were way too many amateurs and unserious glory seekers. (It’s simply too easy to become a candidate; just gather 7,000 signatures and pay a fee of about $4,200.)

And there were no viable, experienced, appealing Democrats.

When we played this silly recall game in 2003, there was at least one Democrat with experience who ran — then-Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. You could vote against recalling Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat — but then you could also vote for a Democrat to replace him, just in case.

But this time, thanks to Newsom's machinations, there are no Democrats with substantive political experience in the race. The governor, apparently worried that having a tested Democrat on the replacement ballot could harm his chances of surviving the recall, urged his party mates not to run.

That strategy, however, could backfire. If a majority of Californians vote to recall Newsom but there is no reasonable Democrat on the replacement ballot, then what? A Republican governor would probably be elected — even though Democrats in California outnumber Republicans by nearly 2 to 1.

Or we could end up with someone like Paffrath, I guess, who is a Democrat but seems thoroughly unqualified. It's idiocy to check a box next to the name of an untested YouTube star who wants the National Guard to rid the streets of homeless people and would do away with income taxes for anyone who earns under $250,000.

So I voted no on the recall. And I left Question 2 blank.

My only other option, as I see it, would have been to vote strategically. In the absence of a candidate I liked, I could’ve targeted my vote to help ensure the defeat of the candidate I liked least — Larry Elder, who has said in the past that climate change is a myth, has defended President Trump vociferously and whom many consider the front-runner if Newsom is recalled.

To help block Elder, I could’ve voted for Faulconer, a Republican with experience in public office. Unlike many in the GOP, he at least believes climate change is real and doesn’t hate immigrants. A few years of Faulconer probably wouldn’t destroy the state.

But here’s the problem — and I am sorry if I sound like a foot-stomping 6-year-old: I don’t want to vote for Kevin Faulconer. It may be the shrewdest move in this dumb situation, but I wasn’t about to do it.

Faulconer is moderate, but only by GOP standards. He’s called the Democratic Party “captive to the far left.” He voted for Trump in 2020 — that’s pretty much a deal breaker for me. Even after Jan. 6 and the second impeachment, he reiterated that “it was the right choice.”

Frankly, I resent that a) the state b) the governor and c) the dummies who started this recall have put me in a position where my only rational choice is to vote for the likes of Faulconer.

Maybe I did the wrong thing. If Elder becomes governor, I will rue my decision. If Newsom keeps his job, as I still believe he will, I’ll be glad I didn’t vote for a Republican I don’t want in office.

As I trudged to the ballot drop-off box, I remembered a 2003 headline that called California “ungovernable” and another that ridiculed the recall as “A Circus Fit for the Fruit and Nut State.”

If we’re going to have a recall process, let’s fix it so it works and, even then, use it sparingly.


This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.