Democrats force recall backers to fight another court battle

SACRAMENTO – Most recall elections are primarily about electoral politics, as both sides duke it out with the usual broadcast ads and ground campaigns. But the burgeoning Republican effort to recall Orange County’s Democratic Sen. Josh Newman has turned into an inside-the-Capitol political fight as well as a high-profile legal battle. It could be months before the matter is debated in the context of a traditional political campaign.

Newman was elected to the Fullerton-area Senate district last November, winning by fewer than 2,500 votes in a district with nearly even voter registration between the Democratic and Republican parties. Voters there have typically sent Republicans to the Legislature, so Newman’s win was viewed as an upset. It also helped Democrats gain supermajorities in the Legislature, which lets them approve tax increases without any GOP votes.

After Newman cast a deciding vote in favor of legislation that raises the gasoline tax by 12 cents a gallon and increases vehicle license fees, former San Diego councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican, started a campaign to boot Newman from the Senate. State Democratic leaders claim that some recall backers misled voters into thinking the recall will repeal the transportation-tax hike, so they struck back with a measure they say is about upholding the integrity of the recall process.

They passed a bill earlier this summer that retroactively changes the state’s long-standing recall-election rules by adding months to the certification timeline. It primarily gives voters 30 days to rescind their recall-petition signatures. Republicans say the new law has nothing to do with recall integrity, but is a transparent attempt to delay the election until the June 2018 primary when Democrats are expected to fare better at the polls. They accuse the Democrats of rigging the election rules to help Newman.

The governor signed Senate Bill 96 in June, but the state’s Third District Court of Appeal put portions of it on hold earlier this month, ruling that it violates the single-subject rule requiring legislation to deal with only one topic. The court, however, didn’t halt the Democratic effort to slow the recall drive. After they returned from summer recess, legislators again used a trailer bill, which is supposedly reserved for budgetary clean-up language, to quickly pass a measure to again rewrite recall election law to help Newman survive a coming vote.

Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate Bill 117 seeks “to eliminate any issue as to whether the changes to recall petition procedures made by Senate Bill 96 are enacted in violation of the single subject rule” by expressing “the intent of the Legislature to repeal those provisions and reenact them in this act, which embraces only the subject of elections.”

After the bill became law, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and several voters again filed a lawsuit against Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the state Legislature to strike down the new law, which they say is unconstitutional.

The original lawsuit argues that “the attempted retroactive interference in a recall process that has already commenced for the express purpose of nullifying, through unreasonable delay, petitioners’ constitutionally-vested right, violates both due process and equal protection of the law.”

The new lawsuit says the new law “should not be permitted to prohibit (the secretary of state) from performing his ministerial duty, which at this point is the simple process of signing his name to a certificate to confirm what everyone knows, and indeed what the Respondent’s office has acknowledged: that the recall petition is sufficient to compel an immediate election.”

It also contends that the law should properly have been passed on a two-thirds vote rather than as majority-vote trailer bill. “While SB117 purported to address the single-subject problem of its predecessor,” the lawsuit argues, “the new bill does so in another unconstitutional vehicle – a ‘spot-bill’ designated as ‘related to the budget in the budget bill.’” But when the budget was adopted, “SB117 was not even identified as one of the budget-related trailer bills” and “had no substantive content.”

If the court rules in the group’s favor, Democrats could still appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court. Win or lose, the Democrats appear to be getting their way – using their fearsome political muscle to delay a recall of one of their senators. It’s the rare election case where the courts have as much influence as the voters.

Steven Greenhut is a Sacramento-based journalist. Write to him at [email protected]


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  1. Craig Powell
    Craig Powell 29 August, 2017, 18:21

    Election manipulations and vote rigging by California Democrats has become a routine part of their political playbook (look at how they’ve been tubing ballot initiatives with deceitful ballot summaries). They are beyond shameful. Chicago-style corrupt politics are alive and well in Sacramento.

    Is there not ONE Democratic officeholder with the character and honor to call out his own party for its abusive, anti-democratic behavior?

    Reply this comment
  2. DokDream
    DokDream 29 August, 2017, 19:52

    The California Democratic Party must be abolished. The Democrats are and have been terrorists since before Calfornia became a state. Our first legislature was mostly Democrat. They stripped property rights from the Californios, who had received lands as grants from Spain. Democrats are the “white men” who fomented the lingering hate and distrust among people of Hispanic origin that plagues our society even today.

    Reply this comment
  3. Queeg
    Queeg 30 August, 2017, 10:07


    There are seething prolatariat, serfs, peons …. hurting….living in squallor in overcrowded apt. hovels, along creeks, storm abutments.

    Healthcare deductibles discourage doctor visits, gasoline priced to the moon, taxes coming on precious/refreshing water, soda taxes looming, electric a luxury while government workers pad pensions, spike salaries, do junkets and live in posh daca’s in summer.

    Getting cleaned out is getting old-

    Reply this comment
  4. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 2 September, 2017, 00:27

    I can remember back when Grey Davis was recalled he sued to stop the recall but lost now we most remove Moonbeam

    Reply this comment
  5. Big gulp secret receipe
    Big gulp secret receipe 5 September, 2017, 21:32

    Getting slammed on the vehicle registration fees already. Gas is next. Can we stop this? We need a 75% government pensioner tax to redistribute Teddy’s wealth back to the innocent victims of tax/fee abuse.

    Reply this comment
  6. gygms
    gygms 16 September, 2017, 09:47

    I hate California Gov Lawmakers, they are not for the people aka taxpayers. Growing up here in CA, I was proud to be in the ‘sunshine state’. Now my heart cries of how we are abused as taxpayers and we have no one to have the authority to stop these people who are so hungry for power. I guess power is an addictive source among those who we voted for. There are no interventions that can be imposed on these addicts for a stay of withdrawal. They are clearly addictive to power.

    Reply this comment

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Steven Greenhut

Steven Greenhut

Steven Greenhut is CalWatchdog’s contributing editor. Greenhut was deputy editor and columnist for The Orange County Register for 11 years. He is author of the new book, “Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation.”

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