Anyone who was around California in 2003 will remember the circus sideshow that the whole nation watched when Governor Gray Davis was put up for a recall vote, with 135 candidates qualifying for the ballot including former child star Gary Coleman (RIP) and porn star Mary Carey. Welp, that is likely to happen again this year unless the state somehow changes the rules.
Davis, whose unpopularity began with California's energy crisis circa 2001, and then was solidified with a massive budget shortfall following his 2002 reelection, ended up being recalled with voters selecting a famous movie star to replace him, Arnold Schwarzenegger — the October 7, 2003 ballot included a yes/no vote on the recall (which passed with 55.4% of the votes), followed by a "who would you vote for if the recall passes?" question, and Schwarzenegger won a plurality with 48.6% of the votes, or 4.2 million total votes.
An effort to recall Gavin Newsom likely will not be so successful, but a group of conservatives who hate him are pressing forward and say they are on track to have the necessary 1.5 million signatures by March 17 to force an election.
Democratic political strategist Steve Maviglio tells ABC 7 this week that it will likely be a "three-ring circus" if this comes to pass, as it looks like it is going to. And he predicts, "I think there will be upwards of 200 candidates. They'll be porn stars and comedians and all kinds of people... I would definitely put the seatbelt on for the next few months of politics."
The reason, he says, is that things haven't changed since 2003 with the rules around recalls, and candidates only have to "write a small check and get on the ballot." (In 2003, there was just a nonrefundable $3,500 fee that candidates had to pay along with submitting 65 signatures from their party, otherwise they could gather 10,000 signatures and get on the ballot for free, which few ended up doing.)
Maviglio warns that Newsom needs to prevent a viable Democratic candidate from getting on the ballot, saying that part of what did Davis in 18 years ago was that "he was getting knifed on the left as well as the right."
As for the Republicans who are jumping in the race now, before there even officially is a race, he's not too concerned. One of those is former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, and another is San Diego businessman John Cox.
As Maviglio tells ABC 7, "I don't think Newsom has anything to worry about with anyone associated with Donald Trump in any way shape or form. And Kevin Faulconer has that baggage."
Republicans will harp on Newsom for public-health orders that have impacted small businesses, and for the slow reopening of public schools, but the latter is barely in his control, and the former is likely to resolve itself in the coming months — at least in the eyes of most voters. And Californians aren't likely to criticize Newsom for being cautious in the pandemic — though his dinner at the French Laundry during Election Week is no doubt going to come up again and again.
And after four years of Donald Trump and two decades of Republican shenanigans in Washington, it's hard to imagine California electing another Republican governor anytime soon.
Maviglio predicts that the only prominent Democrat who could risk his career in the party to run against Newsom would be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who already ran against Newsom for governor. But it's a decision fraught with risks and little likelihood of rewards for Villaraigosa, he says.
California may love to have recall elections, but they rarely succeed, here or elsewhere. As SFist noted previously, seven out of nine of Gray Davis's predecessors faced recall attempts, some of which failed various legal and logistical challenges. And the recall of Davis was only the second successful recall of a governor in U.S. history.