The Next California Gubernatorial Recall Election Will Be Held In …

When voters replaced Democrat Gray Davis with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor in 2003, it was the first time in the state’s 153-year history (at that point) it had recalled a governor. A growing exasperation with the current occupant of the office suggests Californians might not wait that long before they try again.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, elected in 2018 with 62% of the vote, appears to be in trouble. Several recall efforts have failed, but one is still active, and it has until March 17 to collect the 1,495,709 signatures needed before a recall election can be placed on the ballot. Already more than 900,000 have been gathered.

Newsom’s and Davis’ circumstances are not that different. PRI’s Tim Anaya, who has worked in a governor’s office – he was a speechwriter for Schwarzenegger – says “there are quite a lot of similarities between the two.”

“Both Newsom and Davis inherited rosy state budgets with large surpluses amid an era of economic prosperity and roaring tax revenues being generated for the state.” Then, “almost overnight, each experienced a severe economic downturn that turned surpluses into massive deficits in the blink of an eye.”

Newsom and Davis also stumbled into unusual and unexpected – though this is arguable – political thickets. Among other troubles, Davis was overcome by a solvable energy crisis he declined to correct. Newsom has the coronavirus pandemic, his own energy problems and wildfires pulling him down. Davis’ responses did not inspire confidence among voters. Neither has the behavior of Newsom, who fueled recall fever with his visit to the French Laundry, where he attended an indoor birthday party with an unmasked group while nagging everyday Californians to stay home until, well, whenever he says it’s OK to go out again.

Despite the similarities, it seems unlikely history will repeat itself, with Newsom being replaced with a Republican as Davis was. As blue as California was in 2003, it’s even bluer in 2021. Only the wildest imagination could visualize a Democratic governor being turned out of office for a Republican. It’s almost inconceivable that voters in California, where Democratic Party registrations outnumber GOP registrations by 22 percentage points, would send a Republican to the governor’s mansion.

Put another way, by Hoover Institution fellow Bill Whalen, “a successful recall effort is like a three-legged stool – it requires an unpopular governor, unpopular policies, and, finally, a popular alternative. In present-day California, it’s that last leg that’s missing: a credible replacement for Newsom.”

Should the long shot materialize, though, expect arguments to emerge that the GOP has returned as a relevant political party in California.

But maybe the more material point would be what a Newsom loss would mean for the Democratic Party in California.

Former Republican congressman Tom Campbell recently wrote in the Orange County Register that Republicans “shouldn’t pretend” the GOP is resurgent in California just because three Republicans took Democrats’ congressional seats in the 2020 election. He’s probably right. Even if Democrats lost ground due to the rough politics of a recall election, the GOP isn’t necessarily in line to make gains.

Nearly 30% of Californians have no party preference by registration or are identified as “other” by the secretary of state’s office. Merely getting a recall on the ballot is likely to have some impact on that 30%. They might not suddenly become registered Republicans, or even vote GOP. But after a bruising recall campaign and all the damage done, they could stay at home in future elections, dissatisfied by Democrats, uninspired by Republicans. A significant portion of the 46% registered as Democrats might even be turned off as they learn more about Newsom’s conduct and policy missteps, which would be magnified by a recall election.

There are no “ifs” or “could be’s” about the heat being turned up on Newsom, however. On New Year’s Day, the San Francisco Chronicle reported the recall campaign is drawing large contributors. “The effort,” it said, “has received a jolt of seriousness in the form of big-dollar donors.” CNN has noted that the recall is gaining momentum. Based on the letters it’s receiving from readers, the Los Angeles Times is warning Newsom to “watch out” because “voters are angry and primed for a recall.”

No matter how it all turns out, it’s safe to say Newsom’s presidential aspirations will have been severely injured if not buried. A California politician who has lost the confidence of so many of his constituents would have little chance with voters in the rest of the country, despite how smooth he appears on screen.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.


  1. Chris Renner says

    Keep Gavin as the face of California! Outside of a trillion dollar bailout from Biden / Harris (which won’t be easy to get through even a slightly Democrat Congress), Newsome has no chance to claim success so people are skeptical of his intents. Why give Democrats an opportunity to parade someone else and claim success? Besides, the enemy you know is better than than the enemy you don’t know.

  2. An important statistic Governor Newsom may be oblivious to is that 45 percent of the California population – that is a whopping 18 of the 40 million residents of the state are Hispanic and African American. The median income for Latino households in 2016 was $56,200, $96,400 for white households, and $55,200 for black households. According to several studies, as many as 40 percent of all Californians cannot regularly meet basic monthly expenses.

    In 2019, 57 percent of Black families and 50 percent of Latino families with children were poor in terms of net worth, lacking enough financial resources to sustain their families for three months at a poverty level, finds new research from Duke University.

    With California having the highest costs for electricity and fuels in the country, those energy costs drive up the cost of everything. Those energy costs contribute to CA having the highest homeless and poverty rates in America.

    Shockingly, the state is doing everything possible to further increase the cost of electricity and fuels.

    • CA imports more electricity (32 percent) than any other state as the state in unable to produce enough in-state electricity.
    o To compound expensive imports, CA is shuttering most of its natural gas-powered plant and nuclear plants and have no plans to replace that shuttered capacity, just hopes that the Northwest and Southwest states will be capable of providing electricity to the 5th largest economy in the world.

    • CA is the only state in contiguous America that imports most (58 percent) of its crude oil energy demands from foreign country suppliers to meet the energy demands of the state., most of which do not like the USA. Those imports are costing CA $60 million EVERY DAY.
    o The state continues to shutter its in-state crude oil exploration, which will further increase imports from foreign countries

    More than six million Californians already live in overcrowded housing, representing about 2.5 times higher than the nationwide rate.

    Rather than heal the wound by doing everything possible to “reduce” energy cost for 40 million residents, the state is excited to place band-aids on the wound with further housing for the homeless as it continues to do everything possible to further increase the cost of electricity and fuels.

  3. Find the comment about electricity interesting. The majority of it (state wide) is used to pump water. You know what L.A. and San Diego depends on.

    Shutting natural gas generation stations is lame to say the least. A new hybrid is soon to be released that includes zero carbon mix of hydrogen.

    The Democrats own the massive forest fires through lousy environmental management. There is no wiggle room on that one. All of this and more is proven. So why do hispanics and blacks continue to back Democrats? It is called identity politics not based on the best interests of the individual.

    Now did you vote for a Democrat?

  4. Newsom will never be recalled. The main voting blocks in the State have not been affected by the pandemic. State workers still are getting paychecks. So are big tech workers. Teachers are working at 60 percent capacity with 100 percent salaries. Nurses are getting a huge payout, but are working for it. Hollywood is still going strong.

    Newsom has nothing to worry about. And Black and Hispanic voters seem to like being used by these clowns and keep voting for them.

  5. The Republican Party wasted their best opportunity in history to remain a political power. The tepid support of Trump even when he was breaking economic records, demonstrated how stupid and shallow the majority of GOP has become. Tom McClintock is smart and he has been a stalwart supporter of Trump. The question is would he run for the governorship in a state that is bent on political revenge and on the road to bankruptcy?

  6. This State with Democrats in absolute control would rather see the whole state slide into the Pacific before they would do anything to help. The Dems are like the B52 Pilot in the Movie Dr. StrangeGlove. where he climbed onto the Bomb and rode it down. They keep coming up with new regulations to control small businesses but let big companies do as they want. They would sink with the state because they feel that they are always right.

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