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John Fund: California Dems strike back – future recalls will face blowback in state's One Party Empire

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In the third Star Wars movie, it is a young child enrolled in the Jedi Order’s academy who explains why it will soon fall to its enemies. “Master Skywalker, there are too many of them!” the child exclaims just before his death.

As someone who grew up in California and has followed its politics for decades, it’s pretty clear why Gov, Gavin Newsom survived the recall attempt. It was a numbers game.

In 2003, when voters ousted Gray Davis from the governor’s office and replaced him with action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger, California was a much less liberal state. Democrats held only an eight-point edge in voter registration.  This year, supporters of the Newson recall faced a state where Democrats had a 23-point registration advantage (47% to 24%, with the remainder expressing no party preference). No Republican has won more than 47% in a statewide race since 2006.

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With the failure of the Newsom recall, you can expect Democrats and their media allies to gang up and question the very validity of California’s recall process. Ironically, the recall is a Progressive Era reform embedded in the state’s constitution for 110 years and designed to allow citizens to express themselves if special interests or a one-party state come to dominate state government. 

You can now expect the One Party Empire to strike back and ensure its continued control.

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“The recall process is crazy,’ intones New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. The Los Angeles Times attacks the forces “who are exploiting this outdated law to seize power.” 

California Sen. Alex Padilla calls the recall “partisan, reckless, dangerous.” An Atlantic magazine columnist reports Newsom told him that if he survives the recall “he’ll consider changing the law in order to make recalls harder.”

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Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who was herself appointed by Newsom earlier this year, has questioned whether it should be possible for someone to become governor without winning a majority of votes. She also suggested that the signature threshold required to force a gubernatorial recall election might be too low. State lawmakers have already sent to Newsom’s desk a bill to ban paying professional signature-gatherers to collect signatures to put recalls, initiatives and referendums on the ballot.

State Sen. Ben Allen, a Santa Monica Democrat, has introduced a constitutional amendment that would allow a politician facing a recall to also run as a replacement candidate.  The top vote-getter, whether incumbent or challenger, would serve for the remainder of the term. In practical terms, such a change would make recalls almost impossible.

Another idea would have California’s lieutenant governor automatically advance to the governor’s office, which would likely negate the chance that voters could use the recall to move in a different ideological direction. Yet another proposal would dramatically narrow the allowable reasons for a recall.

The real danger of any move to curb recalls is that they wold also limit voters’ rights to put initiatives and referendums on the ballot. 

Some Democrats worry that their party’s zeal to kneecap the recall process should be curbed. Even Gray Davis, the only governor ever recalled in California’s history, says that any changes to the recall process “ought to be a bipartisan effort.”

But the likelihood of that happening is between slim and none. 

“Democrats, who already dominate California politics, are the ones who want changes that would, in effect, solidify their control even more by making it more difficult, or even impossible, to oust an incumbent from the governorship or any other office,” notes Dan Walters, the dean of California political journalists who is now a columnist at CalMatters.org. “One person’s reform is another person’s power trip.”

The real danger of any move to curb recalls is that they wold also limit voters’ rights to put initiatives and referendums on the ballot. That power may be the only check on California’s One Party State.

The Left suffered serious policy reversals in the votes on 12 ballot measures last November. Voters rejected watering down the 1978 Proposition 13 property-tax cut, rejected union efforts to regulate the dialysis industry, opposed allowing local rent control, and rejected a law designed to unionize app-based delivery and ride-share drivers. On crime, they approved a referendum that overturned a bail-reform law recently passed by liberal legislators.

But the most interesting result was the defeat of Proposition 16. That ballot measure would have stripped from the state constitution a provision that makes it illegal for the government to “discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” That language was added to the California constitution in 1996, and last year, identity-politics Democrats in the legislature mounted a sneak attack on it by placing a repeal proposition on the ballot at the last minute.

But on Election Day, the opponents of Proposition 16 won by 14 points, winning every county outside Los Angeles and the Bay Area. A third of African Americans opposed it, along with a majority of Asians and a plurality of Latinos.

Voters often exercise far more common sense than legislators. A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 60% of voters said that decisions made through it are probably better than those made by the governor and legislature.

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Representative government will remain the enduring feature of American democracy, but the initiative and recall procesess are a valuable safety valve. So long as elected officials in many states gerrymander their districts and otherwise make it nearly impossible for voters to oust them, direct lawmaking will be popular.

That’s why attempts to arbitrarily curb the recall or initiative must be resisted. It’s a civil liberties issue that should unite people of good will on both the right and left.

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