How a New Governor Can Save the Golden State

The chances that California Governor Gavin Newsom will have to fight for his political life in a special recall election are nearing 100 percent. With signed recall petitions and donations pouring in faster than ever, proponents have already collected 1.4 million of the 1.8 million signatures they’ll need to turn in by March 17.

This nonpartisan, grassroots movement against a corrupt governor and a corrupt ruling class offers encouragement to the rest of America. If a sitting governor can be forced to defend his record in a recall election in California—the biggest, bluest state in America—then there is no politician, anywhere, who is safe. And the tactics used offer precedent-setting examples others can follow.

Typically, ballot initiatives must employ paid signature gatherers. In today’s market, these paid petition circulation firms can charge as much as $10 per signature, although the price can vary considerably. It isn’t unusual for a campaign to enter into an agreement that starts at a lower price, but as time runs out and—as is often the case—harassment by operatives hired by the opposition becomes more intense, the price shoots up into the $10 per signature range. For powerful special interests like Uber or Lyft, or the California Teachers Association, or various industry groups, paying this much for signed petitions is not a problem. But for a grassroots recall campaign, it is unthinkable.

Neither of the two committees working on the Newsom recall has relied on paid signature gatherers. Instead, to date, the volunteers working for the original recall committee, Recall Gavin 2020, have gathered more than 1.1 million signatures. 

It is difficult to overstate the significance of this achievement. Prior to this, the most productive volunteer signature-gathering efforts in American history—both in California—would include the 2014 attempt to force a referendum on AB 1266 (a state law mandating transgender bathrooms), where despite narrowly failing to qualify, volunteers gathered around 500,000 signatures. To find anything of similar scale before that requires going all the way back to 1978, where estimates of the volunteer share of signatures to qualify California’s famous Proposition 13 (limiting property taxes) are also around a half-million.

The Recall Gavin 2020 volunteers have collected more than twice as many signatures as these previous records. And they have more than 5,000 volunteers working every weekend to collect more.

The other unconventional method to gather signatures is being employed by a more recently formed recall effort, the Rescue California committee. Using targeted direct mail, they are sending recall petitions and reply envelopes to millions of Californians. Results so far indicate this is a cost-effective alternative to paid signature gathering. According to Rescue California, they will complete the direct mail objective of mailing 3.5 million households by February 7, and so far they have received over 270,000 signed recall petitions from these direct mail efforts. 

With half of the mailings still to be delivered and a significant proportion of the rest just received, the committee expects to collect several hundred thousand more signed petitions over the next few weeks.

Success catalyzes success. If there was a tipping point in this recall campaign, it was probably in early November, when two things happened. On November 6, the campaign was granted a 120-day extension to gather signatures, based on their appeal that COVID-19 restrictions hampered the ability for volunteers to circulate petitions. Also around that time, the campaign announced they had gathered over 700,000 signed petitions. With more time and an already impressive total of signed recall petitions, money and support began to pour in.

At this point it appears almost inevitable that a very public trial of Gavin Newsom’s conduct as governor is about to begin. By extension, a recall election would put on trial the entire ruling class and the super-majority party of which Newsom is a part—as well as the failed policies they have imposed on ordinary working Californians.

This recall election will also, of course, be an opportunity for new candidates with new ideas to challenge Newsom and everything he represents.

What Will Newsom’s Challengers Stand For?

Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego and an establishment Republican, is busily rounding up donations and endorsements. But while any Republican would be a better governor than Newsom, Faulconer’s record and his rhetoric suggest he would not challenge the core premises that are used to justify California’s current policies and power structure.

Another candidate certain to run is John Cox, a businessman who defied the skeptics by winning enough votes in the 2018 jungle primary to go head-to-head against Newsom in the general election. While Cox only won 38 percent of the vote against Newsom, he was grossly outspent and didn’t have the name recognition he’s subsequently earned. Cox has good positions on the issues and would shake things up. But is he popular enough to convince 50 percent of California’s voters to reject Newsom?

A dream candidate, of course, would be someone with the star power that Arnold Schwarzenegger had, but less willing to give up when the going got tough (to be fair, in his first year as governor, Schwarzenegger tried to do all the right things, but California’s GOP did not back him up). 

There are dream candidates out there. Larry Elder, for example, the “Sage of South Central,” has spent a lifetime expressing his deep convictions, as well as building a constituency that would passionately support his candidacy. Would Elder run?

This recall goes beyond finding a popular candidate that Californians may find preferable to Newsom. A new entrant without money or name recognition can also win with compassionate but practical solutions, expressed without rancor but also without equivocation or compromise. Here are questions to ask any candidate vying to replace Gavin Newsom. Their answer in every case should be an emphatic yes.

Questions to Ask Any Candidate 

Are you willing to direct California’s attorney general to fight to overturn Jones v. the City of Los Angeles, the flawed court ruling that requires homeless people be offered free “permanent supportive housing” before they can be removed from their public encampments?

Are you willing to build state-run encampments where able-bodied drug addicts can be hauled off and given the help they need for pennies on the dollar, or are you willing to allow the Homeless Industrial Complex to keep on raping taxpayers and solving nothing?

Are you willing to tell the truth, that we ought to drill for more natural gas here in resource-rich California to create jobs since we import so much of it anyway? Will you prevent the destruction of California’s natural gas distribution infrastructure?

Are you willing to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open?

Are you willing to stand up to the teachers’ unions and fight for school choice via universal vouchers, and not settle for incremental “compromises” that accomplish nothing?

Are you going to fight to bring back logging to 1990 levels (triple what it is today) so we can thin the forests and at the same time the timber companies will clear around the power lines and maintain firebreaks and fire roads like they used to, at no charge?

Will you tell the truth about open space, that we are not running out of it, and will you fight to bring back streamlined permitting for subdivisions on open land along the major freeway corridors up and down the state?

Will you spend public money on water infrastructurereservoirs, aquifer storage, desalination, sewage reuse—instead of putting Californians onto water rationing?

Will you invest in widening and extending California’s roads and freeways instead of wasting money on high-speed rail? Do you understand that smart cars and passenger drones are just around the corner, making roads the most versatile transportation investment?

Will you tell the identity politics warriors and social justice warriors they’re barking up the wrong tree, that California is not “racist,” and that if they truly want to help they can encourage individuals to take responsibility for their lives?

These are bold positions that, if translated into policies, would make a positive difference in the lives of ordinary Californians. Explaining the compelling rationale for these policies will build consensus among voters. This means an articulate, uncompromising new governor could bypass California’s corrupt state legislature and take every one of these positions to the voters in the form of state ballot initiatives.

With the right leadership, California can be transformed within a few short years. That is what this recall campaign provides the opportunity to do.

Forcing Newsom to defend himself in a recall election is going to be a tremendous accomplishment, but it is less than half the battle. Offering a coherent alternative to what Newsom and the oligarchy he represents have done to Californians is the vital other half of this struggle.

The necessary flipside of rejecting Newsom is an alternative political agenda that must find a candidate to carry it. An agenda that can turn the tide in the belly of the blue nation, deep-blue California.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

Photo: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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