Newsom Recall Part Deux

Gavin Newsom faces another recall threat in California

Activists who successfully placed a recall on California's ballot in 2021 and forced the Democratic governor to spend tens of millions are trying to oust him again. Newsom is often listed as a possible candidate for President of the United States in 2028.

Conservative activists are launching another attempt to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom, seeking to capitalize on anger over the state's yawning budget deficit and arguing that the top White House surrogate must be stopped before he can make a presidential run of his own.

A citizen-led group plans to formally serve Newsom's office Monday morning with recall papers, organizers informed POLITICO, the initial step in a long and likely expensive process to qualify their effort for the statewide ballot.

Newsom, unchecked by campaign donation limits and fortified by nearly $75 million in spending from his committees and allies, beat back the prior recall that made it onto the ballot in 2021 and was organized by some of the same activists. Newsom cruised over Republican talk-radio host Larry Elder, who faced an onslaught of criticism, even from among the recall's own organizers, over differences in message and strategy. At least five other Newsom recalls have been started but did not move forward.

Proponents of the latest attempt, which is led by Rescue California, pointed to Newsom's ambitions and his role as a super surrogate for President Joe Biden's 2024 reelection campaign. They contend the governor is too busy occupying himself on national politics while the state is racing to close a massive budget shortfall. Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office projected that the state budget faces a $73 billion deficit, nearly double Newsom's own forecast.

"Gavin Newsom has abandoned the state to advance his presidential ambitions, leaving behind a $73 billion budget deficit and a public safety, immigration and education crisis," said Anne.

Dunsmore, an Orange County fundraiser and the campaign director for Rescue California. She said more than 400 Californians of varying political persuasion have joined together to serve as official proponents of the new recall. That includes others from the last effort such as Orrin Heatlie, the retired county sheriff's sergeant from Yolo who helped get the ball rolling in 2020.

"California needs a full-time governor who is fully focused on the serious problems the state and its citizens are facing," Dunsmore said. "This may be our last opportunity to rescue and restore our state, while we highlight for the rest of the country the destruction Newsom has left in his wake."

Nathan Click, a spokesperson for Newsom, suggested the governor and his team aren't brushing off the challenge.

"We are taking it seriously," Click said. "These Trump Republicans are targeting Gov. Newsom because he is out there defending democracy and fighting for the reelection of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. He's not going to be distracted from that fight. Democracy's on the ballot, and he's going to keep fighting."

A recall that qualifies for the ballot would be another headache for Newsom, but the campaign as it stands in the early stages could prove to be a blessing: It gives Newsom a conservative boogeyman to fundraise against. In 2021 and 2022, he used the recall to build one of the biggest digital fundraising operations in Democratic politics.

Recall petitions require signatures equal to 12 percent of the turnout in the last election for governor. In this case, that's roughly 1.38 million signatures, though organizers estimate they would likely need around 1.6 million to account for ones deemed invalid by the secretary of state.

Rescue California and its partners don't plan to use the paid signature-gatherers outside shopping centers and big-box stores, a standard practice for qualifying, at least not currently. Instead, they will start off with other methods such as reaching supporters through the mail.

Dunsmore and organizers said they were motivated by several policy decisions in California, including the state granting health benefits to undocumented immigrants; laws designed to change the criminal justice system that she said have contributed to crime and the rise of smash-and-grab robberies; high taxes; spending billions of dollars on homelessness and social services that have done little to solve the problem; and prolonged school closures during Covid that led to learning loss.

In an interview with POLITICO, Dunsmore also seized on Newsom's outreach for Biden and Harris while the state budget is in arrears. "How do you run away from all of that and then flaunt your progress as governor in order to become president?" Dunsmore said.

She pointed to the timing of the Republican and Democratic national conventions this summer and said "blowing up" Newsom's national efforts for Democrats may not be the chief motivator, but are an "added benefit."

"Stay home and deal with this issue: Now you're gonna have a microscope put on you," she said. "Because he's actually not so bad when he thinks people are watching ... But he thinks he's got like this free ride."

Newsom has been traveling the country; headlining fundraisers, debating Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and appearing on TV to campaign for Biden. On Sunday, Newsom unveiled the first in a series of TV spots that accuses conservative officials of holding women hostage by imposing restrictions on their travel for reproductive care.

Before Newsom spent millions portraying the 2021 recall as a GOP power grab - and Elder as a disciple of former President Donald Trump - the effort eventually benefited from citizen frustrations over Covid-19 and Newsom's attempts to fight off the virus, which critics charged were overbearing and stifled business.

A judge, citing the pandemic and the governor's emergency health orders, granted proponents a crucial extension that gave them more time to gather signatures to place the question on the ballot. The proponents also capitalized on Newsom's decision to attend a birthday dinner at The French Laundry, the celebrated three-Michelin star restaurant in the Napa Valley, where he was pictured maskless.

Organizers have a lower threshold this time, but they would need to move with lightning speed - by sometime in May - to qualify the new recall for the November 2024 ballot. If that doesn't happen, and they can get the signatures later, an election would be sometime after.


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