They’re not exactly ubiquitous, like other initiative petition carriers will be as the winter and spring proceed, but once in a while shoppers may encounter an activist seeking signatures for one of two petitions that now seek a vote to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
That’s far from how it was 16 years ago, when carriers flooded shopping malls with petitions seeking the recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis, who eventually gave way to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The paucity of signable petitions is not the only difference between the two current recall efforts and what befell Davis, reelected to a second term as governor just months before the recall drive began in February 2003.
For one thing, Davis was recalled in large part because of open corruption in his administration, exemplified by the awarding of a large state contract to software maker Oracle Corp. just after it made a large cash contribution to Davis’s campaign fund. There were other egregious examples. But there’s been no evidence of this kind of corruption under Newsom.
There’s also the matter of money. Despite a smattering of national publicity, neither current recall effort – both are sponsored by grass-roots Republicans – has significant financial backing; hence the near absence of petition circulators. By contrast, the Davis recall quickly drew $1.2 million from former Congressman Darrell Issa, a San Diego County Republican and car alarm magnate who “retired” two years ago only to announce last fall for the usually safe GOP House seat of convicted campaign money cheat Duncan Hunter.
So, the Davis recall took off with both moral and financial impetus, both missing this time.
These are two reasons it appears Newsom has little to worry about on the recall front, even though his job approval ratings in recent polls hover around a mere 50 percent, well below those of immediate predecessor Jerry Brown.
There’s only one apparent parallel between Newsom and the recall-era Davis: energy crises. Davis had his after California adopted electricity deregulation before he became governor in 1999, with deregulation allowing Enron Corp. and other later-convicted companies and executives to criminally manipulate California power markets and prices.
Newsom’s energy crisis came with the so-called “public service power shutdowns” (PSPS) that blacked out millions of Californians while Pacific Gas & Electric Co. did all it could to spare itself from financial consequences of its longtime failure to maintain and update power lines.
Those shutdowns were partially planned in a series of spring and summer meetings between Newsom appointees and PG&E executives. But Newsom responded by (at least verbally) turning on the company that has been a major benefactor for him and his wife throughout his political career, using a series of negative epithets to register his outrage, whether real or feigned.
So far, it appears, Newsom will not suffer the same fate as Davis. One recall, sponsored by GOP activist Erin Cruz of Palm Springs, had chalked up no valid voter signatures as of mid-November, more than two months after it was approved for circulation. The other, from San Diego County physician James Veltmeyer, also was not listed by the Secretary of State among referenda with at least 25 percent of needed signatures as of early January, about two months before its signature deadline.
One reason may be that neither of these apparently floundering efforts targets anything specific Newsom did or did not do. Rather, Cruz told a reporter, she is acting against “over a decade of mismanagement of policies, public monies and resources,” and “putting Californians and United States citizens, including our veterans, last.”
Without a complaint much more specific than that, no recall effort has ever gotten far.
Democratic political consultant Garry South, who has worked for both Davis and Newsom, once said “The stars have to align for a recall to succeed.” They did just that against Davis, who might have fended off his recall had it not been joined by the ultra-popular movie muscleman Schwarzenegger.
So, Newsom appears safe – for now. But some Republicans are warning he’d better mind his p’s and q’s and moderate what they call his “left-wing agenda” or they will be back over and over with new recall drives, one of which might just succeed in America’s current ultra-unstable political world.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net