While the chances that Gavin Newsom will face a recall election are greater than ever, those chances are diminished whenever anyone says the signature gathering campaign has been successfully concluded. It is not done yet, and without ongoing financial and volunteer support in these final three weeks it could still fall short.
Even supporters of the recall have succumbed to premature optimism. On February 12, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley tweeted to his nearly 40,000 followers “It’s official. 1.5 million signatures.” Kiley knows better, as his subsequent tweets indicate. Nothing is “official” until 1.5 million valid signatures are certified by the California Secretary of State. To ensure that 1.5 million signed petitions are checked and confirmed as valid, proponents need to collect up to 2.0 million signed petitions.
As of February 17, the recall committees announced that 1,689,000 signatures had been collected. That’s encouraging to recall supporters, since it suggests they collected 189,000 signatures in five days. But they still could be as many as 300,000 signed petitions short of the safe zone, which means they’ll have to maintain this pace over the next few weeks in order to be certain the recall qualifies.
Lead proponent Orrin Heatlie put the latest petition numbers into context, stating “we believe 1.8 [million] gets us there, 1.9 puts us in the comfort zone, and 2.0 would remove all doubt.”
Heatlie’s committee, RecallGavin2020, which started the recall effort, has organized over 5,000 volunteers to gather signatures. To-date they have collected about 1.1 million of the signatures gathered so far. This is the biggest volunteer driven signature gathering effort for a ballot initiative in American history. But they’re not done.
Anne Dunsmore, whose committee, Rescue California, has raised nearly $3.0 million to fund a direct mail and professional signature gathering effort, was cautiously optimistic, saying “We have pulled the trigger on what it takes to cross the finish line but we still need the signatures and the money to get there. If you don’t cross the finish line you don’t win the race.”
If the leaders of the committees working to recall Gavin Newsom are not certain of success, it isn’t stopping candidates from already launching their campaigns. Former mayor of San Diego and GOP establishment donor darling Kevin Faulconer has already launched an exploratory committee which allows him to fundraise, and has begun campaigning up and down the state. Businessman John Cox, who successfully rose to the top of the heap in the 2018 jungle primary, and challenged Newsom for governor in the 2018 general election, is actively campaigning – attacking Newsom and Faulconer – with statewide television ads.
Faulconer and Cox both know that if the recall fails, they can still use its momentum to build visibility for their 2022 campaigns for governor. But while these two men, and their donors, lavish money on their early campaigns, the recall effort still urgently requires funding to finish the job.
Another strong potential candidate for governor to replace Newsom is Richard Grenell, whose most recent political experience was to serve in President Trump’s cabinet as acting Director of National Intelligence, and before that, Ambassador to Germany during the Trump administration. Grenell also worked for the George W. Bush administration.
When reached for comment, Grenell, who has not declared his candidacy for governor, was unequivocal. “It’s annoying that the opportunists want to jump in before the hard work is done of gathering signatures,” he said, “and it is shameful that the national media that ignored the recall for so long are suddenly telling everyone it is over and Newsom will be recalled. They are creating a moral hazard of people thinking the recall is done.”
Grenell expressed admiration for the recall movement, saying “this organic movement of activists have worked hard and gotten small dollar donations from people who believe in the cause and have done this without any of the so called experts and elites.” He also expressed additional caution regarding the ultimate count, noting that “we’re up against a one party system in California that is going to control the counting and verification of ballots.”
While the recall committees face what is certain to be a rigorous, if not overwrought process of petition validation by California’s election bureaucrats, it presents an opportunity as well. It exposes a monstrous double standard. Why is it that California’s election officials carefully scrutinize ballot initiative petitions, checking the signature, checking that the signer is a currently registered voter, that the address is correct, that there are no duplicates, and so on, yet they display far less concern over the validity of votes cast in general elections?
When asked about this double-standard, Heatlie said “if they applied the same standards they use for signed initiative petitions to ballots cast in general elections we would see a fundamental cleanup of the voter rolls.”
In the context of the recall Newsom signature gathering campaign, is interesting to wonder who will run for governor, and it is interesting to speculate as to how California may finally be compelled to clean up their voter rolls and restore confidence in election integrity. But such speculation is premature. The deadline for signature gathering is March 17, and as Heatlie put it, “we will be gathering and processing signatures right up until the last day.”
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