By Jon Coupal – Originally Published in Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association newsletter January 31, 2022
We all know what a sore loser is — someone who lacks grace in defeat. But strangely, in California politics, we have sore winners.
Last month, Senate Constitutional Amendment 6 was introduced in the California Legislature. If passed, it would substantially weaken the right to recall elected officials.
Under current law, voters have the power to recall a state officer by majority vote and, in the same election, elect a successor with a plurality of the vote. The Constitution specifically prohibits a public official who is the subject of a recall election from being a candidate for successor.
In the event an officeholder is removed in a recall election, SCA 6 would require that the office remains vacant until a successor is elected in a special election, or if there is insufficient time to hold a special election, the office would remain vacant for the remainder of the term. The measure would allow the officeholder subject to the recall election to be a candidate in the special election.
But the rule would be different for a gubernatorial recall. If a governor is removed from office in a recall election, SCA 6 provides that the lieutenant governor will become governor for the remainder of the unexpired term. In a one-party state like California, this renders a recall for governor nearly pointless.
The motivation behind SCA 6 is progressive anger directed at the backers of the failed recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom. This makes little sense to us. Gov. Newsom, allowed by law to raise unlimited campaign contributions for his effort to defeat the recall, rode to an easy victory assuring his political survival. For the political establishment to attempt more restrictions on direct democracy after the recall was soundly defeated would be like the Super Bowl winner demanding rule changes after the big game.
But the mere fact that millions of California voters wanted to bounce Newsom for leading us down the path of a failed state was too much for progressives who believe that the rights of direct democracy — initiative, referendum and recall — are bothersome impediments to their right to control all levers of political power.
Those who wish to weaken the power of the right to recall claim that such elections are too costly. But these are the same politicians who don’t hesitate to resign their offices so that they may run in special elections for even higher offices. Those special elections are very expensive as well, but we rarely hear complaints about it from hopscotching politicians and their allies.
Although the Newsom recalled failed, there might be another motivation behind SCA 6. It was introduced by state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, who, unlike Newsom, had a bad experience with the recall process. Ten years ago, he was successfully removed from his state Senate seat due to his support of a massive increase in California’s highest-in-the-nation gas tax. But since then, he has been on a roll of political victories including reclaiming the Senate seat he lost in the very next election.
Recall elections are difficult to mount, and significant percentages of voters must be engaged for such an election even to take place. In the case of the Newsom recall, the failure of recall proponents to coalesce around one candidate didn’t help. A big name like Schwarzenegger wasn’t on the ballot and Gray Davis was much more unpopular. Newsom remains a darling of most progressives and a compliant fourth estate.
If any changes to the recall power are needed, they should level the playing field, not tilt the balance even further away from the rights of direct democracy. For that reason, we are pleased to see that Assemblyman Kelly Seyarto, R-Murrieta, has introduced Assembly Bill 1693 that would require an elected state officer to comply with the contribution limits for campaign contributions to oppose a recall.
If there is any good news about SCA 6 it is that, as a proposed constitutional amendment, it would have to be approved by a majority of the statewide electorate. And while that electorate decided to keep Newsom as governor, at least for now, this should not be interpreted as a dissatisfaction with the right of recall.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.