California Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Sept. 14 to keep voters on his side.
The recall election of the Democratic leader will be held on that date, according to a statement Thursday from Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis.
The election was widely expected to be later in the year. With public sentiment currently favoring the first-term governor, the Democratic-led legislature voted this week to speed the process. The majority of likely voters said in a May poll that they would oppose Newsom’s recall, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
“Although the window of time from which I could select a date was narrow, I believe we have chosen a fair and reasonable date for this election to take place,” Kounalakis, a Democrat, said in the statement.
The timing still poses risks. The most-populous U.S. state is mired in drought, heightening the threat of wildfires and power shutoffs in coming months. Heat waves have already brought about the prospect of rolling blackouts.
The recall movement was fueled by Newsom’s efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 63,000 people in the state. He was criticized for dining at a luxury restaurant, maskless, last November while telling residents to avoid social interactions, while a surge in cases over the winter made California a virus epicenter.
Yet COVID has now ebbed in California, which has one of the lowest test-positivity rates in the country, and most restrictions were lifted June 15.
Almost 1.72 million voters signed petitions to recall Newsom, more than the roughly 1.5 million needed. It’s only the second time in California’s history that a campaign to recall a governor has made the ballot out of 55 attempts. In 2003, Gray Davis was removed and replaced by Hollywood superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, in a circus-like campaign that featured more than 130 candidates, including a porn star and a bounty hunter.
Voters will face two questions: Should Newsom be removed, and if so, who should replace him? A simple majority of yes votes on the first question will result in his ouster. Whoever wins the most votes on the second question -- even if less than 50% -- would become the next governor. And Newsom can’t by law appear as a candidate for that.
More than 50 people have already said they will run, including former Olympic champion Caitlyn Jenner, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Newsom’s 2018 opponent, John Cox. The state estimates that it will cost $276 million to run the recall election.
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