Democrats are pushing late-blooming bills to significantly improve state Sen. Josh Newman’s odds of surviving an effort by the state GOP and others to recall him from office.
The proposed changes, which became public Monday morning, would add months to the existing timeline of certifying a recall election for the ballot. The measure would virtually assure that any recall election would be held at the regularly scheduled June 5, 2018 legislative primary election.
Regular election turnout historically is much higher than turnout for special elections, which helps Democrats.
The effort to recall Newman, D-Fullerton, began soon after his April 6 vote for a road-funding plan that will raise taxes on gas and diesel and vehicle fees by billions of dollars. Newman, who represents an area that has long had Republican representation, won election last fall by just 2,498 votes.
Republican lawmakers and other recall supporters denounced Monday’s legislation as an abuse of power.
“Dems know the gas tax is toxic & Newman will likely lose. They control everything & need to rig the system to protect their political power,” Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley said on Twitter.
Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego councilman and talk radio host who initiated the recall effort, called the move legally suspect and threatened a lawsuit if legislative Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown move ahead with the measure.
“This is a craven attempt to take away a constitutional right from California citizens,” he said. “The Democratic Party should be ashamed of itself. This is an illegal use of power, and it can’t stand.”
Senate Democrats called the bills, embodied in Senate Bill 96 and Assembly Bill 112, a proper response to misleading statements by recall backers. Signature gatherers, they allege, are getting voters to sign the petitions by incorrectly claiming the measure would reverse the fuel and vehicle charges.
“Collecting signatures (by) talking about stopping the car tax, specifically with regards to one of our colleagues here, I don’t believe is transparent and honest,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles.
Last week, the Secretary of State’s Office reported that recall proponents had turned in 31,049 signatures. If those all came from valid voters, proponents would be well on their way to reaching the 63,593 signatures needed to qualify a measure for the ballot.
Unlike regular legislation, budget-related measures, known as trailer bills, take effect immediately. The bill includes $5 million to pay for any election.
Such a ballot likely would come much later than under current law if the legislation took effect.
It would give voters who signed the petitions up to 30 days to withdraw their signatures, with county election officials reporting withdrawn signatures every 10 days. If there were still enough signatures to qualify the measure, the Department of Finance would have to issue a cost estimate for the election. Then the the Joint Legislative Budget Committee would have 30 days to review and comment on the department’s cost estimate.
The measure also would require all signatures to be counted, instead of doing a random sampling of signatures, in the cases of recall petitions. That would add additional weeks to the certification process.
Under the California constitution, governors have to call a recall election within 60 to 80 days of when the secretary of state certifies recall petitions. But if the certification comes within 180 days of a regularly scheduled election, a governor can consolidate the ballots.
In the case of the effort to recall Newman, Brown could consolidate the ballot with the June 5 election if the petition certification came Dec. 7 or later. A spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said the office is still reviewing the legislation and has not taken a position.
“This creates a buffer period, where I think reasonably, we can go and find out who among the signers did not do this intentionally or who was falsely persuaded to do so and give them a chance to remove it,” Newman said.
Monday’s bill prompted a testy exchange between Newman and a Republican lawmaker.
“Our recall laws are over 100 years old, and yet we’re trying to sneak something through in the dark of night that hasn’t been heard in any policy committee,” said Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine.
“I like my colleague an awful lot,” Anderson added about Newman. “I think he’s a great guy. But it’s between him and his district.”
The comment prompted a loud laugh from Newman.
Democrats have repeatedly pointed to the fact that DeMaio, who lives outside Newman’s district, has linked the recall effort to eliminating Democrats’ two-thirds super-majority in the Legislature.
Shortly after Anderson spoke, he walked over to Newman’s desk.
“F--- off, Joel,” Newman said. “Not now. Not now.“
Christopher Cadelago and Taryn Luna of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this story.