LOS ANGELES (AP) — Republican organizers who recalled a sitting California state senator were eyeing further recalls Wednesday while aiming to galvanize November voters over a state gas tax hike.
Democratic consultants and the ousted senator said Republicans could look to recalls as another way to eat into Democrats’ overwhelming majority in the Legislature. But experts said recalls are politically and financially expensive and usually require unique circumstances like those that made Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman a particularly juicy target.
He narrowly won his traditionally Republican Orange County-based seat two years ago and voted for $5 billion a year in higher fuel and transportation taxes. Plus, removing him ends Senate Democrats’ chances for a supermajority this year, and with it the two-thirds majority needed to pass tax and fee increases.
“You really need something motivational,” said Shaun Bowler, a University of California, Riverside, political science professor who has studied the topic. “You need a lot of people to be ticked off.”
Carl DeMaio, who helped organize the recall as chairman of a group called Reform California, said organizers are already considering other recall attempts. He’s is supporting a Republican-backed effort to repeal the tax increase that is likely to be on the November ballot.
“This tax vote is going to cost several Sacramento politicians their seats,” he said.
Newman said the recall effort likely deterred votes last year for an initial attempt to extend one of the state’s high-profile initiatives to combat global warming, the cap-and-trade program, and forced changes and deal-making to get the necessary votes.
“I think that the threat is sort of by itself sufficient to change the legislative conversation,” Newman said. “For an elected who is nervous about his or her prospects, they’re going to be very nervous about this result, especially when you can leverage certain hot button issues like in my case taxes....They were able to weaponize that feature of our Constitution in order to do something that our framers never intended.”
Matt Fleming, a spokesman for the California Republican Party, noted that it’s been a decade since the last such California effort failed to unseat Republican state senator and now U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham.
“I don’t think anybody has an appetite to use this process any more than when absolutely necessary,” he said.
Yet recalls may be one of the few tools left to Republicans who have fallen to third-place status in numbers of registered voters behind Democrats and no-party-preference voters, said Democratic campaign consultant Charu Khopkar.
More than half of officials facing recall votes nationwide are unseated and many more resign before a vote, said Joshua Spivak, author of the Recall Elections Blog. But the efforts are costly, time-consuming and invite political retaliation from the affected party.
On the other hand, “the Republicans are really kind of in a desperate strait in California,” said Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York. “It’s hard to say they will do this on a widespread front, but it could be that they’ll see more benefit than they had in the past.”