A petition to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom has morphed into a populist juggernaut that’s gaining enough steam to pose a significant political threat to his administration.
With more than 1.5 million unverified signatures already gathered—the number of raw signatures needed to initiate a special recall election—the two men who launched the original Recall Gavin 2020 petition are confident they’ll reach the threshold of valid signatures needed by the March 17 deadline.
“It’s like I’m on a train. It’s an amazing journey that keeps getting more and more speed,” Mike Netter told The Epoch Times.
Netter, 63, and Orrin Heatlie, 52, formed the California Patriot Coalition, one of two groups spearheading the recall effort along with Rescue California headed by Anne Dunsmore. They told The Epoch Times they want to collect 2 million signatures combined, to ensure at least 1.5 million of them are deemed valid by the Secretary of State.
So far, the signature validation rate has hovered between about 82 percent and 85 percent, Netter said—considerably higher than the average rate of about 63 percent for most ballot initiatives.
California is one of 19 states where recalls are allowed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. If 1.5 million valid signatures are gathered by the March 17 deadline, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber must schedule a special election, expected by late summer or early fall.
A Recall Effort Is Born
In 2018, Newsom was elected by the widest margin in a gubernatorial race since 1950. Soon after, Heatlie said he began to follow news coverage of the governor’s plans to suspend the death penalty, close prisons, and allow sanctuary cities.
Heatlie recently retired after serving 25 years as a sergeant with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department. As a police officer, he said he had seen enough of criminal justice reform policies under Newsom’s predecessor, former Gov. Jerry Brown, and their real-world impacts, including widespread drug abuse and homelessness.
“I was sitting in my living room one day, and I had seen a news conference with Gavin Newsom, which I took objection to, and I started researching recalls. I thought for sure if this guy’s out here doing this kind of stuff, somebody had to have launched a recall,” Heatlie said.
Heatlie attended a small meeting to support the efforts of Republican congressional candidate Erin Cruz to recall Newsom. Netter, a seasoned distribution, sales, and marketing executive, went to the same event.
As the two became more involved in social media groups related to the recall campaign, they realized Cruz’s effort would likely fail. They were correct; it fizzled after gathering a few hundred thousand signatures, they said.
After spending hours on the phone one night more than a year ago, Heatlie and Netter hammered out a plan to form a new political action committee (PAC), the California Patriot Coalition, and launch another recall petition.
They designed a petition that could be printed on 8.5-by-11-inch sheets rather than on legal-size paper, making it much easier for most people to print on their home computers. Then they went to work, organizing and developing strong social media networks.
Netter said Recall Gavin 2020 is a “grassroots movement” that is more about policy than politics.
“We are just people. We have no motivation, other than getting Gavin out of office to make this state a better place,” Netter said. “We’re really just a group of concerned people with no political experience, not extreme right-wing or anything like the press tries to make us out.”
Netter, a real estate agent, is concerned with more pragmatic issues, like the exodus of people and businesses from California. “Ideology versus practicality, that’s what California has come down to. It’s not a practical state to live in anymore,” he said.
“Everybody kind of wants the same thing. They really want to have a decent job, raise their kids decently, be pretty safe on the streets, and be able to live their lives. So we have to have practicality, or we can’t exist economically and socially.”
Picking Up Steam
The California Patriot Coalition gathered about 5,000 volunteers to collect signatures throughout the state. In November 2020, the group succeeded in getting an extension for petitioning through March.
Dunsmore formed Rescue California around the same time and month. Simultaneously, she launched a mail campaign and recruited another 13,000 or so volunteers to complement the on-the-ground petitioning of the California Patriot Coalition, which has collected the majority of signatures.
Both groups are conducting their own in-house verification of signatures to reduce the odds they could be rejected when they reach each of California’s 58 counties’ Registrar of Voters offices. Those offices verify the signatures, tossing out duplicates and non-eligible voters, Dunsmore told The Epoch Times recently.
Following the March 17 deadline, signature status reports are due on March 18 and April 19. The county signature verification deadline is April 29.
From there, the petitions go to the Secretary of State, where more signatures could be rejected before the final tally of valid signatures is declared.
If the recall effort is successful and a special election is called, voters can expect to see a yes/no question on the ballot asking them whether Newsom should be recalled. If yes, voters will have a slate of possibly more than 100 candidates to replace him. Newsom cannot put his name on the ballot.
If the voters decide to oust Newsom, he’ll be out of office in about a week, Dunsmore told The Epoch Times recently.
Newsom’s popularity plummeted in mid-November when he was seen at a private indoor dinner party at the posh French Laundry restaurant in Napa. The governor was not wearing a mask and was in clear violation of social-distancing mandates during his own statewide stay-at-home order. The incident took place shortly after Newsom told Californians to wear masks and limit social gatherings, even with family members, as the holiday season approached.
Extended lockdowns, massive unemployment fraud, and a chaotic vaccine distribution system have contributed to further criticism, indicating the recall has become as much a referendum on the governor’s response to the pandemic as a backlash against his policies.
“Thanks to Gavin Newsom,” the recall petition “is going quite well,” Netter said.
Neither Newsom nor his spokesman, Dan Newman, have responded to inquiries by The Epoch Times about the recall.
However, CalMatters recently reported that Newman referred to recall supporters as “a strange mishmash of people who are motivated for different reasons.”
“You’ve got some pro-Trump, anti-mask, anti-vaccine extremists, along with opportunistic and ambitious Republican politicians who would like to be governor,” Newman said.
Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s Office has also not responded to inquiries by The Epoch Times.
Jen Psaki, the press secretary for President Joe Biden, said via Twitter the president “clearly opposes any effort” to recall Newsom. She added that the two share a commitment to a range of issues, including “addressing the climate crisis to getting the pandemic under control.”
Since 1913, there have been 178 recall attempts of state elected officials in California. Ten recall efforts collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot and of those, the elected official was recalled in six instances, according to the SOS website.
So far, Gray Davis has been the only California governor to be recalled. Davis, a Democrat, was ousted on Oct. 7, 2003. He was succeeded by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won the recall election. Organizers of the Davis recall petition gathered 400,000 more signatures than needed, totaling some 1.3 million.
Tara MacIsaac of The Epoch Times contributed to this report.