Capitol Alert

Gas tax vote prompts recall campaign against Southern California Democrat

Josh Newman supports ballot measure to protect gas tax money

Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, on April 6, 2017 spoke in support of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, which would guarantee that the gas tax and vehicle fee increase he and other lawmakers approved must be used for transportation projects.
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Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, on April 6, 2017 spoke in support of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, which would guarantee that the gas tax and vehicle fee increase he and other lawmakers approved must be used for transportation projects.

In the first political fallout from last week’s vote to raise the gas tax in California, opponents are trying to recall a rookie lawmaker who voted for it.

Carl DeMaio, a talk radio host and former city councilman in San Diego, said Tuesday that plans are moving forward to launch a recall of Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, who voted for the $52 billion road repair package, paid for by fuel taxes and registration fees, just four months after he took office.

“This is the right strategy. There’s consensus on it. And we are moving forward,” DeMaio said.

While the gas tax is the impetus of the action, DeMaio said he and others in the nascent coalition to oust Newman are primarily setting their sights on the Democratic Party’s two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature.

DeMaio would not name any of the other players but did say they are working to get the California Republican Party involved, adding, “If they don’t take action on this, they deserve their superminority status.”

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said he’s monitoring the discussions.

“There is a desire to ensure that those who approved this attack on the middle class suffer the political consequences,” Coupal said by phone Tuesday. “People are really ticked off about this, so it would not surprise me if one or more recall efforts were launched as a direct result of this massive tax increase.”

Though it took a Republican vote in the Senate to clinch the needed two-thirds margin last week after Democratic Sen. Steven Glazer refused to support the road repair deal, dispatching Newman would put Democrats below the 27-member supermajority status, making it that much harder to raise taxes again in the future.

DeMaio said the time is right to capitalize on the tax vote, noting Newman won his fall race by fewer than 2,500 votes over Republican Ling Ling Chang. The district includes parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange counties and is considered a battleground for either party. Newman doesn’t stand for re-election until 2020, a presidential election year in which higher turnout tends to favor Democrats.

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Newman, the co-author of ACA 5, the constitutional amendment that prohibits lawmakers from shifting the tax money to other purposes, was not immediately available for comment.

Transportation-related taxes, and talk radio, for that matter, were at the center of the successful 2003 recall of former Gov. Gray Davis. Several attempts to recall legislators, however, have foundered and sometimes left their subjects in better position because the rules allow them to raise unlimited contributions that can be used for other political purposes.

In 2009, critics launched a recall effort to oust then-Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, one of a handful of Republicans who voted for temporary tax increases in February 2009. The effort ultimately fizzled for lack of valid voter signatures.

A couple of years earlier, then-Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata sponsored an effort to oust then-Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, after Denham refused to vote for the state budget in 2007. The recall failed overwhelmingly in June 2008.

DeMaio said he’s not worried about that happening: “They have not been well-planned, well-funded and well-managed.”

Proponents need 63,592 valid signatures and have 160 days to collect signatures and turn in petitions once they are issued. Based on the recall election timeline, it would occur after the road deal becomes law and Californians begin paying the higher fees and taxes.

“We are going to make a singular example of Newman,” added DeMaio.

Kaitlyn MacGregor, a spokeswoman for the state GOP, said party officials are listening closely to district voters.

“We hear that they are angry,” MacGregor said. “And if something comes together, we will look at it.”

Gov. Jerry Brown discusses the "arrangements" he made with California lawmakers to secure passage of a bill that raises the gas tax for road repairs on April 6, 2017.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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