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Trendsetter? California's recall election could inspire other western states

Expert says nearby states like Oregon, Washington and Arizona could see more copycat recall efforts.

Updated: September 19, 2021 - 10:56pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

With Republicans still stinging from California's failed recall attempt of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, one elections expert says nearby states could see more copycat recall efforts.

The recall election proved Newsom was not Gray Davis, the last California governor to be recalled in 2003. The freshman governor defeated the recall effort against him by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.

Supporters of the recall used Newsom's unilateral COVID-19 mitigation orders to fulfill their signature requirements.

"Newsom lost and then later won on COVID-19 handling," said Ben Kaplan, CEO of TOP Government, a San Francisco-based national polling and market research agency. "His viral gaffe moment at French Laundry gave the recall huge momentum. But, in the end, the candidate that everyone coalesced around in Larry Elder caused enough to fear what he could do over COVID-19."

It appears California Democrats are fed up with the threat of recall elections. Pointing to the high cost of the recall election spurred by a relatively small number of residents, lawmakers plan to make initiating a recall more difficult.

Even though it failed, Kaplan said California's recall election could become the muse for similar efforts in other western states that have similar measures available to them, namely Arizona, Oregon and Washington.

"All three of those states permit the recall of state officials," he said. "Because of the high profile nature and it being a Democratic stronghold, I'd expect to see a lot of attempts at copycat recalls."

The key difference between California and the three other states is what Golden State lawmakers are looking to change; the low threshold of signatures required to trigger a recall election.

California's petition requirement is 12% of the total number of those who voted for or against the target of a recall. Arizona and Washington require signatures in the amount of 25% of the last election's total vote tally. Oregon requires 15% for a statewide officeholder recall.

All three states' sitting governors have seen at least one recall attempt over the past two years, with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown facing four since 2019.

A May attempt to recall Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was shot down in court. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, saw a recall effort in February fall short of signatures by the deadline. In all four attempts to trigger a recall election in Oregon, Republicans fell short.

All of the recall attempts used the respective governor's COVID-19 response as justification.

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