Local Recalls, by the Numbers

Good morning.

Most Californians know about the recall. You know which one. The one where we will be asked, on Sept. 14, whether we think Gov. Gavin Newsom should be removed from office.

But you may not know about all the others.

The recall effort against Newsom is merely the highest profile of dozens of efforts underway to boot elected officials across the state from their jobs.

There are petitioners seeking support for kicking out three San Francisco school board members, after the panel spent time fighting over a plan to rename schools rather than figuring out how to get students back into classrooms. Community members are trying to oust three of five members of the Shasta County board of supervisors, who they said bowed to “Pharoah Newsom” by enacting pandemic restrictions.

Various Angelenos have said they want to remove at least two City Council members (Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman, who has served just six months) and their newly elected district attorney, George Gascón, known as a progressive reformer. His successor as San Francisco’s district attorney, Chesa Boudin, known as an even more progressive prosecutor, is also facing a recall attempt for enacting policies that got him elected.

While all these might lead you to believe that the state is in the midst of a kind of recall mania — perhaps inspired by the Newsom recall — Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at Wagner College’s Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform, said that this was actually par for the course.

“I think a lot of these efforts would have happened anyway,” Spivak, who runs a blog tracking and analyzing recall elections across the country, told me.

Last year, Spivak said, he counted 61 recall attempts in California, including one that ended when its target, the widely respected mayor of Auburn, died in a plane crash. Of those 61, just 11 made it onto a ballot and eight of those votes ended with the target being recalled.

The California Recall Election

    • Understand the Recall Election: These 12 questions help explain the historical, political and logistical forces behind the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California.
    • How Gavin Newsom Got Here: The campaign to recall the state’s governor shows that even a one-party stronghold like California can be rocked by the nation’s political polarization.
    • Campaign Qualifies for Ballot: The 1.6 million voters who signed a petition for the Republican-led recall effort have 30 business days to ask to have their names removed if they so choose.
    • The Pandemic’s Impact on the Election: The recall has highlighted the differences between the powerhouse California that elected Gavin Newsom and the virus-battered California he now governs. And it has raised a question for all governors: Are 2020’s leaders still what is needed in 2021?

    Across the country last year, Spivak counted 434 recall attempts, up from 344 attempts in 2019. Still, only 80 of those 434 got a result: 42 officials were ousted, 14 resigned and 24 survived the votes.

    Taken together, these stats suggest an increase in awareness of the possibility of recalling elected officials, coupled with a pandemic that seemed almost tailor-made to sow discontent with leaders — especially local ones.

    Spivak attributed a rise in attempts to recall school board members to frustration with school closures, for instance. And he said that if it hadn’t been for the pandemic lockdowns or the extra time for proponents to gather signatures, the current Newsom recall effort — one of many since the governor was elected — wouldn’t have made it.

    Another shift that’s playing out in California, Spivak said, is what kind of issues spur recall attempts.

    Once, local recalls were nearly always born of nonpartisan disputes or allegations of misconduct. (This year, one example would be the recall effort constituents led against Dominic Foppoli, then the mayor of Windsor, after he was accused by multiple women of sexual assault. He resigned.)

    Now, though, Spivak said, “local issues have been subsumed by national issues.” The local recall efforts, in other words, have become proxies for fights over former President Donald J. Trump or criminal justice reform.

    Spivak put the efforts to recall progressive district attorneys in that category. That’s happening across the country.

    For more:

    Ezra Klein writes for The Times’s Opinion section that the Newsom recall effort is a farce: “California is littered with well-meaning ideas to increase democratic participation that have decayed into avenues that organized interests use to foil the public will.”

    Read this deep dive from The Los Angeles Times on California’s “recall fever.”

    If you missed it, here’s why the special recall election is set for Sept. 14 and what it means.

    Dig deeper into the effort to recall Gascón.

    Read about the ins and outs of recall elections on Spivak’s Recall Elections Blog here.

    Here’s what else to know today

    Compiled by Steven Moity and Mariel Wamsley

    The West Coast is bracing for another dangerous heat wave with record-breaking temperatures this weekend. In parts of California, the highs will be in the triple digits.

    Amid a deepening drought, Gov. Gavin Newsom asked people and businesses to voluntarily cut water use by 15 percent, The Associated Press reports.

    A magnitude 5.9 earthquake struck Central California on Thursday afternoon, The Merced Sun-Star reports. Though aftershocks were felt from Los Angeles to the Oregon border, the earthquake is unlikely to have caused significant damage.

    The California Geological Survey released new tsunami hazard maps for the Bay Area. If a once-in-a-millennium tsunami hit, it could inundate more of the waterfront than scientists previously feared, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

    A $1.1 billion plan to clean trash and graffiti across the state has begun. Newsom says it will create 11,000 jobs, and 400 people have already been hired or offered a job in the past week, The Los Angeles Times reports.

    The Sacramento Bee reports that a Sacramento judge rejected a bid to halt the state’s early release of inmates. Since the height of the pandemic, emergency rules intended to lessen prison crowding have allowed inmates to accrue good conduct credits more quickly.

    A judge suspended criminal proceedings on Thursday against a man accused in an Orange County mass shooting. The lawyers for the suspect, who was shot in the head by a police officer, said they did not believe their client was mentally fit to stand trial, The Orange County Register reports.

    Last week, fuel shortages caused airlines to divert, delay or cancel more than 20 flights at Fresno Yosemite International Airport. The Fresno Bee discovered that a shortage of labor was the underlying cause for the jet fuel concerns.

    NBC Los Angeles reports that the average price, last week, for a gallon of gas was $3.13 in the U.S., whereas in California, it was $4.30 per gallon, and analysts expect more increases because of the state’s higher gas tax and stricter environmental regulations.

    And finally …

    By the time this newsletter hits your inbox, this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee will have a winner. But if you for some reason feel like reliving what seems to be a rather potent form of childhood humiliation, you can try this spelling quiz, featuring words that have appeared in the pages of The Times.

    And catch up on The Times’s live coverage of the bee here.

    California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

    Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

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