Bill Whalen

The problem isn’t Josh Newman, it’s recalls

Josh Newman vows to beat recall attempt: 'We are not giving this seat back'

Sen. Josh Newman arrived on stage in a bear costume at the California Democratic Convention in May, then described how surprised he was to learn his vote for a gas tax increase had prompted a recall effort. Video courtesy of California Democratic
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Sen. Josh Newman arrived on stage in a bear costume at the California Democratic Convention in May, then described how surprised he was to learn his vote for a gas tax increase had prompted a recall effort. Video courtesy of California Democratic

You might recall that California voters can recall incumbent lawmakers if they so desire. It’s what brought Arnold Schwarzenegger to the state Capitol, broom in hand. It may deliver a new state senator in the Southland.

Recalls are also a symptom of the political disease that ails this state and the nation: exaggerated outrage and inappropriate remedies.

State Sen. Josh Newman’s supposed crime is voting for a 12-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax that was part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s $52 billion infrastructure plan.

Sure, motorists may be miffed by the higher price at the pump later this year. Voters’ displeasure with an increase in the state’s vehicle license fee was one factor in Gray Davis’ swift termination in favor of Schwarzenegger.

But Newman wasn’t the “deciding vote” on the gas tax, as the recall campaign claims; 25 fellow Democrats and one Republican were in favor.

Politically, however, the freshman Democrat is low-hanging fruit. He won his seat by less than 2,500 votes out of nearly 318,000 cast, so Republicans see a chance to flip it.

Newman may turn out to be more like Anthony Adams, one of six GOP lawmakers who broke with their caucus to vote for Schwarzenegger’s tax-raising 2009-10 state budget and earned the wrath of conservative activists. A recall effort against Adams fizzled and he escaped the gallows.

California recall attempts succeed as infrequently as the Sacramento Kings are in playoff contention (well, maybe not that bad).

Over the past century, recalls have been launched 49 times against governors and 76 times against state legislators. Only nine times did they prompt an election, and only five times was a lawmaker removed.

In the summer of 2017, the recall may feel good for voters in the 29th Senate District who don’t like tax increases. It gives conservative talk radio a new chew toy. It may even help a few political consultants buy a vacation home.

But given the politics at work, it’s about as appealing of a notion as letting Anthony Scaramucci handle a wedding toast.

Speaking of Washington, some congressional Democrats would steer the nation into a different kind of recall: the impeachment of President Donald Trump. I’ll leave it to the lawyers to argue what constitutes an impeachable offense. But Congress should only start down that road to protect the rule of law, not for partisan politics.

What’s best for the body politic – in California and America – is for all concerned to take a breather.

In Newman’s case, does voting for a tax increase rise to the level of Doris Allen, who was recalled by Orange County voters in 1995 for scheming with Willie Brown to give Assembly Democrats half the committee chairs and the operating budget despite Republicans having a majority?

In Trump’s case, is there enough tangible evidence of a crime or cover-up to drag the president into a legal entanglement that will only further constipate Washington? Every president since Ronald Reagan has either faced or been threatened with impeachment. That knee-jerk partisanship has cheapened its integrity.

The same is true of the movement to oust Newman. He voted at his party’s beck and call. If that’s a hanging offense, good luck getting a legislative quorum.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.

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