Breanna Reeves |

The office of California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis announced that a special gubernatorial recall election will take place on September 14. 

California residents will receive their ballots beginning in August to decide whether Governor Gavin Newsom will remain in office or be replaced.

With the shortened timeline of the special election, the Department of Finance estimated the cost of a statewide special recall election will be about $276 million. 

The recall of Governor Newsom has been brewing for over a year now, fueled by frustration and anger due to protections put in place across California as a result of the pandemic. California officially went into lockdown on March 19, 2020 the first state in the nation to do so in order to slow the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. During the lockdown, more than 40,000 small businesses were forced to close in September because of the restrictions. 

The recall’s lead proponent is Orrin Heatlie of Folsom, California, who stated that “this rogue Governor has lost sight of [the impact the closure had on small businesses] and must be recalled!” 

The campaign to Recall Gavin Newsom met the threshold of verified signatures in April, receiving 1,626,042 signatures which exceeded the number of signatures required. Since the verification of signatures, approximately 58 candidates have filed statements of intention to run in the special election, including John Cox, who lost the gubernatorial election to Newsom in 2018, Riverside District 5 Supervisor Jeff Hewitt (registered as a Libertarian) and former Olympian and TV personality Caitlyn Jenner (registered as a Republican). 

A car with a “Recall Newsom” decal in Cerritos, CA. Photo taken by Breanna Reeves.

This special election is held, it will mark the second time in California’s history a vote to recall a sitting governor occured. The first recall election resulted in Gray Davis’ removal and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s win in 2003. According to the California Secretary of State’s office, there have been 54 previous attempts to recall California governors.

2003 Gray Davis Recall versus 2021 Gavin Newsom Recall

Governor Gray Davis was recalled in 2003 during the midst of a recession following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the implementation of a statewide car tax, and an electricity crisis in the state. These economic circumstances led to the recall campaign similar to the recall campaign of Governor Newsom that was launched at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when restrictions were enforced.

Matt Lesenyie, assistant professor of political science at California State Long Beach (CSULB), who worked in Governor Schwarzenegger’s Office of Constituent Affairs & the Office of Planning and Research, explained that the circumstances surrounding Davis’ recall and the recall campaign against Newsom are part of a Republican strategy to gain power in the state.

Former Governor Gray Davis. (Source: Loeb & Loeb LLP)

“So, it’s not a performance thing. You have a full third—a quarter—of the population that identifies as Republican, [who] hasn’t had a competitive candidate for generations, I would say plural,” Lesenyie explained. “And if you remove Schwarzenegger and his coming to power through the recall, I mean that’s the last bright spot in statewide elections for the Republican party and that’s related to their strategy.”

During the 2003 Davis recall, there were 135 replacement candidates listed on the ballot. Despite the long list of candidates, the election only calls for a replacement candidate to have the most votes in the event voters do decide to recall a sitting governor. Part of what led to Schwarzenegger’s victory was name recognition and popularity.

“And that’s why Schwarzenegger did so well,” Lesenyie said. “A lot of people were like this dude has scandals or treated me poorly or there were a lot of questions about his dad’s relationship with Nazi sympathizers and stuff, but what was most salient was everybody was like, ‘Yo, I’ve seen his movies. I actually know that guy.’”

Unlike Davis, Newsom is a relatively popular governor amongst California Democrats and has the full support of the Democratic party during this recall campaign. No Democratic frontrunners have emerged so far.

“One key difference is that there was a lot more money pumped into the recall campaign against Gray Davis than there is against Governor Newsom,” said Matthew Mendez Garcia, an assistant professor at CSULB. “So, the opponents of the recall, the pro-Newsom side, have outraised their opponents by nearly six to one. So, there’s a lot less money, there’s a lot less big names that are fundraising on behalf of the Newsom recall.”

Opponents of the recall have raised roughly $23.1 million and supporters of the recall have raised about $4.9 million thus far, as reported by Cal Matters via data from the Secretary of State.

Another difference between Davis’s recall and the recall campaign against Newsom is voter turnout. 

“In 2003 Democrats had a nine percent registration advantage. Republicans have historically turned out in greater numbers than Democrats so that was surmountable at the time for them,” said Adam Probolsky, president of Probolsky Research and pollster. “Now the Dem advantage is 22 percent. That ain’t surmountable. California is a Democratic state.”

This chart displays California Party registration facts in 2003 and now. This chart and data is provided by Probolsky Research, an independent, non-partisan, woman and Latina-owned market and opinion research firm.

“A lot of this rides on Gavin Newsom mobilizing and educating voters. So mobilizing voters to turn out, informing them an election is happening and then educating them on how to vote,” Garcia said. “Since this isn’t a traditional ballot, he needs to get his supporters, of which there are more of, he needs to get them to come out and then vote ‘no’ and then also not vote for another candidate on the list.”

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at or via twitter @_breereeves.

Header photo caption: Gov. Gavin Newsom by Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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