SACRAMENTO — Four years ago, California Democrats altered the state’s recall laws in part to slow down the process and try to aid a state senator facing a removal vote over his support for increasing the gas tax.
Now, as Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a recall of his own, they are trying to change the laws again. This time, though, Democrats want the option to speed things up to take advantage of what they see as favorable conditions for Newsom.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the changes today.
Newsom’s campaign hasn’t commented on the proposed altering of the recall timeline. Recent polls show Newsom in a stronger position than at the start of the year when the pandemic was raging and much of the economy was shuttered.
Those who want to speed things up believe the longer the wait until voters cast their ballots, the more risk of problems arising for Newsom. Democrats hold wide majorities in the state Legislature, making it easy for them to change the rules.
Jack Citrin, a political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said changing the calendar threatens to reinforce the public’s cynicism about politicians doing whatever they can to stay in power.
“They’re trying to create a situation that is most favorable for the partisan outcome that they favor,” said Citrin, who has studied trust in government and California’s initiative process.
It’s common for lawmakers in states that allow recalls to fiddle with election laws, but it usually happens after the contest is done, not before or during it, said Joshua Spivak, a recall elections expert. And efforts to manipulate election timing don’t always work, he noted, pointing to California state Sen. Josh Newman, who lost his 2018 recall election despite Democrats’ rule changes.
“That really suggested maybe we don’t know what we’re doing. You’re playing with fire by doing that,” said Spivak, who is a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College and runs the Recall Elections Blog.
He speculated the change could backfire because an earlier election gives Democrats less time to motivate their voters. Republicans were behind the recall effort and gathered more than 1.7 million signatures. They say their voters are energized.
“Democrats’ rule changes failed to save Josh Newman from getting recalled four years ago, and voters aren’t going to fall for their trickery now either as they try and change the rules in the hopes of saving Gavin Newsom,” the California Republican Party wrote in a news release earlier this month.