With over 1.2 million signed petitions already collected, and tens of thousands more arriving daily, the chances have never been higher that Gavin Newsom will have to fight for his political life in a special recall election.
How the proponents have built a powerful coalition of committees is an example of innovation that offers a new model for qualifying initiatives, recalls and referendums, one that will not be restricted to billionaire corporations or one-party legislatures.
According to lead proponent Orrin Heatlie, the volunteer signature gathering army that has been growing all summer is now deploying over 5,000 people every weekend to gather signatures. “They’re tired but they keep plugging along like they always have,” said Heatlie, adding that “more and more people volunteer as they learn about the progress of the movement.”
The latest counts, confirmed by representatives at both of the main committees, indicate over 200,000 signatures have already been collected via a direct mail effort, and over 1,000,000 signatures have now been gathered by volunteers. The original volunteer committee, the California Patriot Coalition led by Heatlie, has been active since June 2020. The committee running the direct mail campaign, Rescue California led by Anne Dunsmore, has only been doing mass mailings for a few weeks.
Using direct mail instead of professional signature gatherers is a risk that appears to be paying off. Paid signature gathering campaigns currently face the multiple obstacles of COVID restrictions on where they can set up, as well as the impact of AB 5 which destroys the traditional business model of hiring signature gatherers as independent contractors. Even before these new hurdles were added, the costs for signature gathering had already gone up because the number of firms able to do statewide campaigns consolidated at the same time as the number of well-funded special interests willing to pay whatever it takes increased. For example, Uber, or the real estate industry, or the association representing dialysis clinics, and others, can easily spend tens of millions of dollars on a signature campaign. But activist groups rarely have unlimited funds.
This is why the synergy generated by the original committee, the California Patriot Coalition, which successfully recruited a grassroots army, combined with the innovative approach of direct mail being used by Rescue California, may become a precedent setting breakthrough to be emulated in future initiative qualification campaigns.
“It is exciting to see the response to our effort,” said Anne Dunsmore when reached for comment. “We are way ahead of our projections, and we absolutely expect to reach our goal of 700,000 signed petitions via direct mail. The signed petitions we receive are validating at the astonishing rate of 98 percent, each response averages over two signatures, and we also have received donations from over 8,000 people, including over 500 per day in the past week.”
Dunsmore also recognized the tremendous contributions of the original recall committee, saying “We are enormously pleased with our partnership with the California Patriot Coalition and their volunteer effort.”
A key member of the California Patriot Coalition is Robin McCrae, who echoed Dunsmore’s sentiments about the synergy between the two committees, saying “we are all well intentioned, passionate people who care about making change for the better and we all have a common goal and common purpose and our parallel efforts will get the job done.”
With thousands of active volunteers, managing the logistics and messaging of the group is a challenge. Heatlie explained how that challenge was recently complicated by Facebook. “We have 75 local Recall Gavin groups on Facebook with over 200,000 members,” said Heatlie, “and in the days following the events on January 6 in Washington DC, all of our administrators were locked out of posting or commenting on posts. Over 150 of our administrators and regional managers were locked out of their Facebook groups. The ban won’t lift until January 23rd.”
The irony of Facebook leaving these group pages up but locking out the administrators is that the group leaders lost the ability to screen user posts and comments. This meant the risk of non-administrators leaving posts or comments that might offend Facebook went up, not down, by virtue of their ban. “If violations were entered on our Facebook pages,” said Heatlie, “we couldn’t remove them anymore.”
Opponents of the recall point to incendiary comments online, attributable to a few people and often posted in the heat of the moment. But a few objectionable comments only represent a minute fraction of the vast movement behind the recall. It worth wondering who is helped when Facebook prevents recall organizers from even moderating their online forums.
McCrae offered additional thoughts that might summarize the motivations of the vast majority of recall supporters when she said “The heart and soul of this recall are hard working volunteers who are dedicated to saving California. They are fighting for the right to work, to save their businesses, and protect their freedom from government overreach. They recognize that California is no longer thriving. Our beautiful state is deteriorating and we are trying to save it.”
Dunsmore summed up the opportunity represented by tapping tremendous grassroots energy and supplementing that with traditional professional campaigning. “We are working together with passion, but not reckless passion. That’s hard when people are coming up with policies that are so atrocious and polarizing. When something is really important and it’s bad, you can’t just get mad, you have to fix the problem with a level head.”
What Newsom faces with this recall is a new coalition. A populist movement that is growing in political and logistical savvy every day, allied with a group of seasoned professionals who dove in against the odds to support them. There are many politicians in California that have, at least in the minds of millions of voters, failed to recognize and correct the challenges facing Californians. As they watch the “walls close in” on Newsom, they may rest assured they will be next.
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