Campaign to recall California Gov. Newsom racks up 1.6mn+ signatures, meeting threshold to appear on ballot

A petition to remove California Governor Gavin Newsom from office has gained enough signatures to trigger a recall election, state officials said, noting that more than 1.6 million residents had endorsed the effort.

With 1,626,042 signatures submitted and verified since the recall campaign kicked off last year, Californians could soon head to the polls to elect a new governor, according to a tally released by California Secretary of State Shirley Weber on Monday. The initiative required just shy of 1.5 million signatures to qualify.

“This now triggers the next phase of the recall process, a 30-business-day period in which voters may submit written requests to county Registrars of Voters to remove their names from the recall petition,” Weber’s office said in a statement, adding that “a recall election will be held unless a sufficient number of signatures are withdrawn.”

Led by retired Yolo County Deputy Sheriff Orrin Heatlie and a number of conservative activist groups, the recall organizers were given a March 17 deadline to collect and submit signatures, but still have until April 29 to verify the names. The 1.6 million figure was validated last week, the new government tally shows.

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While Newsom took office on a 62% landslide win in 2018, state residents have grown increasingly critical of his leadership, particularly surrounding his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated government lockdown orders. Ex-sheriff Heatlie, along with his California Patriot Coalition and other right-leaning orgs like Rescue California, launched the recall drive last June, quickly racking up hundreds of thousands of signatures and fundraising millions in donations. 

With 1.6 million signatures and counting, the special recall race is likely to proceed, but some of Newsom’s backers are holding out for a win over the effort, with former Democratic State Senator Don Perata leading a campaign dubbed “Stop the Steal” to kill the recall in its tracks. A mocking reference to ex-President Donald Trump’s claims of fraud in the 2020 race, Perata hopes to convince enough signatories to rescind their endorsement for the project and rob it of the signatures needed to move forward. 

Should Perata fail to do so, state lawmakers will have a 30-day period to come up with a cost estimate for a special election – which Newsom’s office has already appraised at $81 million – after which Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis will select a date. That means Californians could vote sometime in the summer or fall.

Republican challengers are already lining up for a chance to take the governorship from Newsom, among them former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, as well as businessmen John Cox, a previous gubernatorial candidate. Former Olympian and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner has also said she would throw her hat in the ring, announcing her candidacy last week.

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However, while polling from February indicated lagging support for the governor, showing his approval figure had dropped to 46%, a more recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California suggested an improvement, with a 53% approval rating and 56% of respondents saying they would vote for him in a recall race. Nonetheless, those numbers marked a steep decline from Newsom’s peak of 65% approval last May.

The governor has previously dismissed the recall effort, calling its supporters “political extremists” just days after it was launched last summer, and has continued to rail against it since. Soon after the announcement from Weber’s office on Monday, Newsom blasted the campaign in a tweet, saying that “recall threatens our values and seeks to undo the important progress we’ve made” on issues ranging from fighting Covid-19, protecting the environment and passing “common sense” gun control legislation.

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