Members of the California Legislature apparently believe they have the power to change outcomes they don’t like. This is like awarding the NBA Championship to Cleveland by retroactively mandating that all of Golden State’s three point baskets be counted as only two.
While basketball is not on the minds of lawmakers, they are working to interfere with something of much greater value to average Californians, their constitutional right to recall elected officials. The Sacramento politicians think they have found a way to derail what appears to be a successful grassroots effort to recall state Sen. Josh Newman, who cast a key vote imposing a new $5.2 billion annual gas and car tax on already overburdened taxpayers.
The power of recall is a powerful tool of direct democracy. The secretary of state’s website says, “Recall is the power of the voters to remove elected officials before their terms expire. It has been a fundamental part of our governmental system since 1911 and has been used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives.”
In the 29th Senate District, covering parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, voters have been busy exercising their right to recall their tax-raising representative Josh Newman. Much to the surprise of Sacramento insiders, it looks like the campaign will succeed in gathering enough signatures to force the senator to be held accountable in a special election — already the secretary of state has instructed county registrars to begin counting the signatures. The chance that the recall of one of their own will be successful has lawmakers panicking. Their solution is to surreptitiously change the recall rules that have been in place for over a century.
With little notice, the Legislature amended Senate Bill 96, as it was about to pass in connection with the state budget on June 15, for the purpose of changing the rules governing the current recall effort. The purpose of the bill is shamelessly transparent: “It is the Legislature’s intent that the changes made by this act in the Elections Code apply retroactively to recalls that are pending at any stage at the time of the act’s enactment… .”
Their end game is delay. They want to delay the ultimate vote on ousting Newman for as long as possible, despite the constitutional guarantee to have the vote as quickly as possible — between 60 days and 180 days from the recall petitions having been certified.
Here’s how they do it: First, they try to delay the petition review process by requiring the county Registrars of Voters to check the validity of every signature submitted. Normally, the registrars are permitted to check a random sample of the signatures, saving both time and money.
Second, and more disturbing, is the provision buried deep in the text that states, “Notwithstanding any other law, the Secretary of State shall not certify the sufficiency of the signatures [on the recall petitions] until the Legislative Joint Budget Committee has 30 days to review and comment on the estimate [of recall costs] submitted by the Department of Finance.”
Here’s the kicker. The Department of Finance is part of the governor’s office and the bill does not require the governor’s office to prepare that analysis under any time limit. Gov. Brown, who has already come out against the recall, can simply delay that report indefinitely, which, in turn, would hold up certification of the recall effort and the ultimate election.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that those in power in Sacramento will stop at nothing to retain their power and influence, putting their own interests ahead of those of average Californians. But lawmakers who disrespect voters should be wary. Polls show that nearly 60 percent of Californians oppose the new gas tax. The higher taxes will kick in just before the beginning of next year’s election season. Voters are very likely to remember who is responsible and choose to retire multiple representatives, not just a single senator, in the regularly scheduled 2018 election.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.