The March 17 deadline for gathering signatures for the recall of Governor Gavin Newsom of California is upon us. Some 1.5 million are needed and more than 2 million have signed so far. If the early 83% validation rate holds up, it looks like Coast voters will get to decide whether they want to recall the Democrat who was once the “golden boy” of the Golden State but who has lately proved a disappointment to millions.
Just getting enough signatures to trigger a recall election is an accomplishment few thought would happen. As recently as 2018, Mr. Newsom won the governorship with 62% of the vote. The recall effort took off after Mr. Newsom attended a party with lobbyists without masks or social distancing — while telling Californians to mask up and keep their distance. A few polls recording the governor’s approval rating plunged below 50%.
Suddenly the long shot started to look credible, though the populist recall process in California has historically been a bit wild. In 2003, when Governor Gray Davis was recalled, it precipitated a ballot listing more than 135 candidates, including a stripper and comedians. This recall could see even more candidates enter the fray, even if, in the end, name recognition is likely to prove to be a huge factor.
In the 2003 recall, Coast voters ended up sending the movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sacramento. The top names from the GOP side at the moment include the two-term mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox, who ran against Mr. Newsom in 2018, and President Trump’s acting Director of National Intelligence, Ric Grenell, who rose to prominence as ambassador to Germany.
If the signature threshold is reached — not yet a sure bet — the recall vote would likely occur before November. It might have started as a rebuke of Mr. Newsom’s progressive policies, but it has grown into a backlash against his strict stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and lockdowns of businesses and schools. The recall bid seems to have focused Mr. Newsom’s mind — he has finally started to relax some of the Covid restrictions.
The governor is also trying to tilt the field by signing into law a bill requiring registered voters to receive a ballot by mail for any election occurring in 2021. He’s hoping to use the playbook from the 2020 election, in which mail-in ballots favored Democrats. Mr. Newsom’s biggest problem is he’s the leader of a dysfunctional state run by a progressive supermajority in Sacramento, and people are voting with their feet.
When the 2020 Census data is released, California is expected to lose, for the first time, a congressional seat. Fueling the exodus from California are high taxes, overregulation, rising crime, increased homelessness, and, among other things, the expensiveness of energy. For Republicans to get this many signatures for a recall in a deep blue state is a step toward California going in a new direction. Could what starts in California again augur events in other blue states?