CA swept by large wave of ‘unprecedented’ recalls in 2021

photo of a ballot
Connor Lin/Senior Staff
Unique among most states in the country, California allows for recall movements at both a local and statewide level, an allowance reflected in the frequency with which these political changes are called upon. In August 2021, the state saw more than 70 officials face concentrated recall efforts.

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Across the United States, fewer than half of states allow local recalls — even fewer allow for the recall of state officials.

California stands out not only for its allowance of both local and statewide recall movements, but also for the frequency with which they occur. According to radio station KCRW, more than 70 officials, both local and state, had recall efforts launched against them in August 2021.

Perhaps the most notable of 2021 was the failed recall of state Gov. Gavin Newsom. After the recall was rejected by nearly 62% of voters, Newsom was able to remain in office for the remainder of his term. He will attempt a run for reelection in November 2022, according to his website.

Across the Bay Area, the new year sees the emergence of more recall efforts.

On Feb. 15, three members of the San Francisco School Board — Board President Gabriela López and board commissioners Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga — will face voters seeking to recall them, according to an October notice from San Francisco City and County Department of Elections director John Arntz.

Proponents of the recall cite research from EMC Research , a private research company, which shows that disapproval of the San Francisco Unified School District, or SFUSD, increased from 35% to 57% from 2020 to May 2021.

Most of the respondents blame the city’s school board; in May 2021, 71% of city voters said the board was doing “not so good” or “poor,” according to EMC Research. A majority of respondents ultimately supported the recall of several members, with 69% of SFUSD parents in favor.

Ultimately, 80,000 people signed a petition to launch the recall, according to the Recall SF School Board website, which outlines their argument.

Among the main complaints are an increased budget deficit, allegedly anti-Asian tweets by Collins, her subsequent lawsuit for damages against the SFUSD and the upcoming retirement of Superintendent Vincent Matthews.

“(We) were the last big city to reopen,” the website alleges. “Our most disadvantaged kids fell farthest behind.”

The efforts are backed by a number of prominent city and state figures, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, California Sen. Scott Wiener, State Treasurer Fiona Ma and a number of local groups.

In an interview with KQED, Collins responded to the effort, adding that it diverted energy from other pressing issues.

“I would much rather be talking to you about, how do we address sexual assault in our schools? How do we fully fund education in California?” Collins said to KQED. “This is happening nationwide with an unprecedented amount of recalls across the country. It is a political tactic, and it’s unfortunate when politics gets in the way of us doing the work that we were elected to do.”

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin will also face a recall effort June 7.

Opponents allege that Boudin’s policies have led to increased crime; the Recall Chesa Boudin website alleges San Francisco residents have been “experiencing the string of numerous other unpunished crimes under this DA.”

There is also support for Boudin to stay in office — according to the group Stand with Chesa Boudin, Boudin has increased police accountability and reduced the jail population of San Francisco by 50%. The website also claims that crime has dropped by 30% under Boudin.

Boudin’s website outlines his priorities while in office.

“Boudin’s policies focus on prioritizing treatment, resources, and support for those whose crimes stem from underlying struggles,” the website reads. “This also allows the office to focus resources on protecting the public from serious and violent crime.”

Despite frequent recall efforts, however, polls from the Public Policy Institute of California show a majority of likely voters — 78% — want changes to the recall process. Nearly 80% of those interviewed, for example, noted that they felt Newsom’s recall was a waste of taxpayer money.

Among respondents, three potential changes were favored by a majority: a top-two runoff election, changes to reasons for recall elections and raising signature requirements from 12% of the votes cast in the office’s previous election to 25%.

Currently, a California official can be recalled for any reason. Sixty-four percent of respondents agreed that the laws surrounding recalls should be changed so an official can only be recalled for illegal or unethical activity.

Whatever the outcome of the impending recall elections, one thing is clear: California is ready to change the way the recall of public officials is conducted. What remains to be seen is how state officials and voters seek to tangibly solve the discord in its recall policies.

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected]