Two separate recall efforts launched against California Gov. Newsom, but face steep uphill battle

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Two Republican politicians have launched separate efforts to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, (D) California, but political analysts say their chances of success are slim for now.

Current congressional candidate Erin Cruz, from the Palm Springs area, launched her petition first in early August, accusing the governor of mismanaging the state and criticizing his support of certain policies. She specifically cited his Medicare for All proposal and laws helping immigrants living in the country illegally.

The secretary of state approved a second petition later in August from former congressional candidate Dr. James Veltmeyer, from the San Diego area. It says Gov. Newsom has violated the public trust in four areas: Health care for undocumented immigrants, tax increases, homelessness, and sanctuary state and cities policies.

History would indicate both petitions are facing a steep uphill battle, trying to take down a governor who won 62% of the vote just a year ago, but a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed his job approval ratings down to 44% in September.

But political analyst Mark Keppler, the executive director of the Maddy Institute, tells Action News, "Newsom is doing quite well," even in the PPIC survey, where 32% of participants disapproved of the governor. "The quick answer is, no, Newsom has nothing to worry about."

Why wouldn't he worry? It's very easy to start a recall petition in California, but difficult get the recall on the next ballot. They need to get enough verified signatures representing 12% of the number of voters who cast ballots in the previous election. In this case, the petitions need almost 1.5 million verified signatures.

The secretary of state's office has not verified any signatures yet, but its first count of unverified signatures showed the Cruz effort accumulating fewer than 17,000 signatures in its first month.

Organizers pointed to almost 4.5 million votes for President Trump in California's 2016 election, a reason for hope.

"I think we're doing excellent," said Cruz petition organizer Monica Gallagher. "I'm confident we'll make it to 1.5 million."

Over the last 106 years of governance in the state of California, petitioners have launched 165 recall efforts, according to the secretary of state's office. Nine have qualified for the ballot. Five have succeeded. Gov. Gray Davis was the only person to lose a statewide office because of a recall.

"Gray's situation had to do with a car tax and some other issues, like a failed deregulation rollout," said Keppler.

Leaders of the current petition efforts point to some similar circumstances for Newsom after PG&E cut power to more than 500,000 Californians citing wildfire dangers.

"34 counties losing power is worse than Davis' rolling blackouts," said Andrew Russo, an organizer for the Veltmeyer effort. "Nero fiddled while Rome burned. (Newsom is) our version of Nero. He's fiddling while California burns."

But 156 of 165 recall efforts failed before even getting to the ballot -- 95% of them.

"The hurdle for filing these efforts is the money it takes to collect the signatures," Keppler said. "And with so many propositions likely to appear on the 2020 November ballot, my guess is that the cost per signature is going to be fairly high. As a result, only those with deep pockets can really afford to lead these recall efforts."

Cruz is relying solely on volunteers to collect signatures, mostly at permanent locations throughout the state, like gun stores and other businesses. They're also doing special events, like the Merced County Tomato Festival and an October 19 collection at State Foods Marketing in Madera County.

Dr. Veltmeyer's petition effort is using paid signature collectors because they say that's the only way to get the results they need.

"The best volunteer effort in California has only gathered less than 700,000 signatures," an organizer told Action News. They're aiming for 2 million to account for signatures they won't be able to have verified.

Having two separate petitions may also be an issue. They can't combine their petitions now, but both sides tell Action News they tried to coordinate and join forces before launching separate efforts.

Leaders from both recall efforts acknowledge confusion about the separate petitions. They recommend people sign both. And they're hoping to pick up steam as voters learn more about the bills just passed by the Democratic state legislature and signed by Gov. Newsom.

Recall efforts are just a fact of life for governors in California, especially since voters recalled Davis in 2003. Seven petitions tried to terminate his replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Five recall petitions targeted Jerry Brown during his second stint as governor.

Political analysts say a lot of the petitions are just a way for candidates for other offices to get their names in the public eye. Cruz, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, is running for Congress in 2020. Veltmeyer ran for Congress in 2016 and 2018 but is not currently seeking office.

"We believe it would/could be beneficial for congressional and other candidates to fund this effort - much like Darrell Issa did in 2003," said an organizer with Veltmeyer's petition. "Plus, candidates can certainly use the issue as a campaign platform and fundraising pitch."

"This is a way to encourage Republicans to turn out to vote since they want to retake some of the close races they lost," like the 21st Congressional seat David Valadao narrowly lost to Democrat T.J. Cox in 2018, said the Maddy Institute's Keppler. "Given the low Republicans statewide registration, it is unlikely that they were able to win any statewide races."
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