3% of California Recalls Actually Work; They Have One Thing in Common

By John Myers

Los Angeles Times

October 15, 2017

Firing a politician, months or even years ahead of their next campaign for elected office, is the ultimate act of voter anger. And California voters gave themselves the power to do so 106 years ago this month.

In all that time, two things have stood out about recall elections: They rarely succeed, but when they do, it's usually because of a political fight that goes far beyond the person whose name is on the ballot.

It's unclear whether those maxims will hold true for state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), the Democratic freshman legislator whose fate may be decided by voters in his Orange County-based district early next year. Newman won an open seat last November by just 2,498 votes in what had been a Republican district.

That also is part of the story of recalls. They're often launched by backers of the candidate who lost the last election by a razor-thin margin. In the case of the 29th Senate District, the gathering of voter signatures on a petition calling for a recall was almost solely paid for by the California Republican Party.

Not counting the Newman effort, there have been 163 attempts to remove California elected officials since 1913, but only nine whose backers collected enough signatures to trigger a special election. In the last 25 years, there are three of note. One -- the 2003 recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis and the election of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- was a political milestone. The previous winning efforts came following a dramatic power struggle in the Assembly after the 1994 election, when two GOP lawmakers were recalled for helping Democrats retain control over the Assembly.

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