Lawmakers target reforms to California's recall process | September 17, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 17, 2021

Lawmakers target reforms to California's recall process

Leaders prepare to hold joint hearings to discuss changes to 'deeply flawed' system

by Gennady Sheyner

A day after California voters beat back an effort to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from office, Democratic lawmakers announced that they are setting the stage to reform what they see as a deeply flawed recall process.

Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, will be one of the leaders of the reform effort. As chair of the Assembly Committee on Elections, he and state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, plan to hold bipartisan joint hearings with their colleagues in the Legislature in the coming months to explore ways to change the recall process that allows state officials to be removed, the two lawmakers said Wednesday morning at a press conference over Zoom.

While the details of the reform package have not been hashed out, Berman said his biggest issue with the current system is the relatively low threshold for ousting and replacing an incumbent governor. Under the two-question format that was used in this week's recall election, Newsom needed at least half of the state's voters to reject the recall for him to stay in office. By contrast, if a simple majority had voted to support the recall, any candidate who was vying to replace Newsom would only needed to have won a plurality of votes.

"For me, the biggest issue is that we currently have a process whereby the governor can be recalled and replaced by someone who has less votes," Berman said Wednesday morning. "For me, that's the big foundational piece that I want to change."

Glazer, who chairs the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, also said he has significant concerns about the two-question format used on the recall ballot. Most of the other 19 states that have a recall process have provisions for appointing someone to fill the vacant seat if a governor is recalled. Some lawmakers, he said, believe a recall should trigger a runoff. Others believe a lieutenant governor should step forward if a recall is successful and fill the spot until an election is completed at a future date.

These alternatives will be explored in the coming months, he said, as the two legislative bodies proceed with gathering ideas from lawmakers, academics and legal and political experts. Lawmakers will look at issues such as grounds for removal, California's signature gathering requirements and the process of succession, should the recall effort be successful.

Both lawmakers expressed concern Wednesday about the way that the recall process, which has been around for over a century, has been used in recent years. More than 70% of attempts to recall elected state officials that have qualified for the ballot have occurred in the last 27 years. Berman and Glazer noted in a statement that each of the last nine governors in California has faced multiple recall attempts, though only two have qualified for the ballot. The only successful ouster of a governor through the recall process occurred in 2003, when voters removed Gray Davis from office and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The two lawmakers noted that the reform process will be open to the public to maintain transparency.

"Neither of us is suggesting that the recall process be eliminated," Glazer said at Wednesday's press conference. "We're simply saying that accountability is good and it needs to be maintained, but we need to look for ways to modernize it and understand how it's been manipulated in the last couple of decades in ways that we think are counterproductive and that voters of California, at the end of the day, may view as counterproductive."

Berman said in a statement that the Tuesday vote, in which more than two-thirds of voters rejected the recall, "highlighted the fundamentally undemocratic nature of California's existing recall process." The leaders of the state's two legislative chambers — Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) — also issued statements expressing support for exploring recall reforms. Atkins called such a review "timely and worthy of debate," while Rendon called it "totally appropriate."

"We came far too close to having a Governor elected by a tiny fraction of eligible voters," Rendon said in a statement. "While that is no way to pick the leader of the most populous state in the nation, it would be equally wrong to make any changes without a thorough study of alternatives. I look forward to hearing the discussion."

Berman and Glazer said that the earliest time frame for enacting reform to the recall process would be 2022. That is also when Newsom is up for reelection. Berman said given the recent effort to recall the governor, reforms to the process are an issue that is "in front of the mind for a lot of voters right now."

"In hindsight, Chair Glazer and I probably wish this was addressed before either of us had been elected to the Legislature," Berman said. "It hasn't been. We want to make sure we make some improvements to the process now and not kick it off to future elected officials."

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by jr1
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 16, 2021 at 10:48 am

jr1 is a registered user.

Voters need to understand, regardless of the party politicians would like to get rid of the recall process.

Posted by dontliveinCA
a resident of another community
on Sep 16, 2021 at 11:59 am

dontliveinCA is a registered user.

The current process is nuts and definitely needs to be changed; I do think a recall process is OK, but it needs to make sense and be fair.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 16, 2021 at 1:05 pm

Citizen is a registered user.

This is just another hoped for power grab, to cement one party Democratic rule, while reducing the influence and power of citizens and their ability to recall corrupt and/or inept elected officials.

Posted by tmp
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 16, 2021 at 1:30 pm

tmp is a registered user.

Who care's that much about the recall. If our elected representatives actually did the job that voters sent them to Sacramento to do there would be no problem. But instead we now have Rep. Berman wasting time on news "click bait" stories like recalls rather than actually doing any good for the state by planning ahead for sea level rise and limiting areas where buildings can be built, planning ahead for less water and limiting population growth, planning ahead for less hydropower (due to less water) and pushing to rapidly expand solar and other forms of energy, planning ahead and limiting pollution since CA has the worst air in the nation.

But we don't have leaders that plan ahead. Instead we have leaders that look for attention around the latest news item or leaders looking for money from lobbyist and then they trip over themselves getting attention or giving away their favors to those who bought them or ran stories about them .

Hence the slew of state bills that help developers destroy local city zoning, bills that let thieves roam the streets and not be held accountable, bills that continue to let polluting plastic bags be freely dispensed, and bills that don't limit fossil fuel consumption. Nothing that will require any serious commitment and hard work on their part, nothing controversial or difficult to achieve to try to save the state's ecosystem in the long term, just more give away stuff to those that pay for it and all that hard work to get the news media to pay attention to you.

Posted by jr1
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 19, 2021 at 12:34 pm

jr1 is a registered user.

For me the situation with Gov. Newsom, if he was a Republican would I have voted for him to be recalled. I would, even though I'm registered, Independent. Once I removed the party label on Newsom voting to remove him was a simple decision for me.

Posted by sennet williams
a resident of another community
on Sep 23, 2021 at 6:46 pm

sennet williams is a registered user.

The easiest solution is simply that the "recall targeted" officials be automatically included on the list of "replacement candidates." The East bay times (and presumably the SJ Mercury News) published my letter on Wed, Sept 22. This would end wasteful recall attempts by politicians too right-wing to possibly win a general election.

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