Capitol Alert

Effort to recall Richard Pan over vaccine bill cleared for signatures

Sen. Richard Pan speaks to supporters of Senate Bill 277, which eliminates personal and religious belief exemptions for vaccines, after the bill was signed on June 30, 2015 in Sacramento, Calif.
Sen. Richard Pan speaks to supporters of Senate Bill 277, which eliminates personal and religious belief exemptions for vaccines, after the bill was signed on June 30, 2015 in Sacramento, Calif.

Thwarted in the Legislature, opponents of California’s vaccine mandate law have turned to the ballot box with a recall aimed at Senate Bill 277’s champion.

A campaign to recall Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, the pediatrician who carried the bill requiring full vaccinations for schoolchildren, has been cleared to advance to the signature-gathering phase. Proponents have until Dec. 31 to collect 35,926 verified signatures from the 436,318 registered voters in his district.

Crafted in response to a measles outbreak that began in Disneyland, SB 277 spurred a furious backlash from parents assailing a loss of child-rearing autonomy and insisting that vaccines are unsafe. As they lined up at hearings to testify against the bill, many vowed to make lawmakers pay at election time.

Their efforts to block the bill failed, with Gov. Jerry Brown signing it into law, but they are making good on the election threat. In addition to seeking to recall Pan, bill opponents are seeking to overturn the law via referendum.

“It is not so much about the vaccinations as it is about the defense of liberty,” said Katherine Duran, an Elk Grove stay-at-home parent who advocated against SB 277 and is helping to lead the Pan recall. “The government, as a creature of the people, doesn’t have the right to tell the people what they can and can’t put into their bodies.”

Qualifying a ballot measure requires a substantial number of signature gatherers and, typically, the funding to pay them. Sacramento political consultant Rob Stutzman predicted the effort’s success will hinge largely on raising money, estimating it would take around $100,000 to collect enough signatures.

“It would seem to me it’s plausible they qualify this if they have the money,” Stutzman said, noting that a national debate over vaccinations “has identified a lot of wealthy people” allied with skeptics.

Duran estimated that she can deploy about 35 volunteers and has received donations “from around the country,” though she suggested the statewide referendum is diverting support from the Pan recall.

“It’s a very small, volunteer effort,” Duran said.

At a news conference after the signing, Pan said he was “not concerned” with the recall effort, predicting that constituents largely support the legislation.

“I ran to be sure we keep our communities safe and healthy,” Pan said. “That’s what I ran on; that’s what I told the voters. And I feel that this bill, this law now, is actually a shining example of me keeping my promise to the people of my district.”

Pan is not the only legislator whose SB 277 stance has fueled a recall effort. Bill detractors are seeking to recall a number of legislators who voted for the measure, backed by a Fresno-based organization called SB 277 Recalls that is directing funds and marshaling volunteers to launch district-level efforts.

They have taken initial steps toward a recall of Sen. Andy Vidak, a Hanford Republican who broke with most of his party in voting for the bill. A push to unseat Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who voted for the bill on two separate committees and spoke strongly in its favor, foundered as proponents failed to submit their petition in time.

“They did not meet that deadline,” said Sam Mahood, a spokesman for the California secretary of state’s office.

In 1962, Stella Bohern received a letter from drug manufacturer Pfizer addressed to her then-toddler Theresa Hazelton. The missive informed her that she was the first child to receive the measles vaccine in California, as part of a field trial of

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert