LOS ANGELES – California Democrats called for changes to the state’s recall process less than a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom decisively beat back a Republican-led effort to oust him from office.
Assemblymember Marc Berman and state Sen. Steve Glazer, both Democrats, announced on Wednesday plans to hold joint, bipartisan hearings as early as October to examine potential modifications to the recall system. They did not outline any specific proposals that will be addressed during those hearings.
“Yesterday’s election highlighted the fundamentally undemocratic nature of California’s existing recall process,” Berman, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Elections, said during the announcement, held over Zoom. “California laws should not allow an elected official to be recalled and replaced by someone else who receives far fewer votes.”
Changing California’s recall system, which was established in 1911, would require the state Legislature to pass a proposed amendment to the state Constitution with two-thirds majority in the Assembly and the Senate. The proposed amendment would then appear on a statewide ballot.
Berman said he hopes legislation will be introduced sometime early next year and the issue put to voters on the 2022 ballot.
“Whatever solution we come up with, it should be clear for future governors and voters,” he said.
The recall election Tuesday asked voters whether Newsom should be removed — “yes” or “no” — and gave voters who wanted him ousted the choice of 46 alternatives.
“No” won with 64 percent of the expected vote, according to NBC News. Results will be certified by Oct. 22, according to the California secretary of state’s office.
The state’s finance department estimated in July that holding a recall election would cost taxpayers $276 million, a price tag repeatedly criticized by opponents of the effort. On Tuesday, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber told ABC News the final cost could total more than $300 million.
“That money can be spent on housing, on homelessness, on combating climate change and forest fires, early childhood education – you name it,” Berman said. “I do think there is a lot of desire and need for reforming the recall process.”
Newsom, a Democrat, appeared to face serious headwinds and multiple crises earlier this summer with initial polls suggesting he could lose his job. A controversial dinner at Michelin star restaurant French Laundry served as the perfect backdrop for those who painted him as an out-of-touch elite.
Republican challengers complained that Newsom, who was photographed not wearing a mask inside the restaurant, did not follow his own public health rules despite a statewide mandate intended to help slow the spread of Covid-19. He also faced criticism over keeping schools closed for too long and not doing enough to help small businesses.
But Newsom, with the help of party leaders including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, succeeded in rousing Democratic voters with a message that warned a Republican replacement would roll back Covid protections and betray the state’s progressive character.
“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines,” Newsom told supporters after multiple sources, including NBC News, projected he would survive the recall and remain in office Tuesday night. “We said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear. We said yes to women’s constitutional right to decide.”
Glazer and Berman said that they hope to clarify what constitutes a “recallable offense,” thus establishing a higher bar for future recall elections. Currently, a governor is subject to a recall election if opponents gather signatures equivalent to 12 percent of total votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election. Once a recall qualifies for the ballot, voters are asked to decide on two questions: should the governor be recalled and, if so, who should replace them?
The second question, which voters are not obligated to answer, is something both Glazer and Berman intend to study during their respective committee hearings, they said. Currently, a candidate who wins fewer votes than the sitting governor can replace them if enough people vote no on the first question.
“Neither of us is suggesting the recall process be eliminated,” Glazer said. “We have to look at ways to modernize it and understand how it’s been manipulated over the decades.”