By Nicolas Hernandez and Elizabeth Casillas, Sept. 7, 2021

Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing a recall election to remove him from office on Sept. 14 — the second gubernatorial recall election in California history and only the fourth in U.S. history. Cal Poly Pomona will serve as a voting center as it has in past elections, providing multiple options for on-campus voting.

Given the state’s continued struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor’s influence in California State University funding, the election’s results pose significant effects for the campus and its community.

“Even though it is not a giant, dramatic 2020 election, this election is super important,” said ASI Secretary of External Affairs Nicole Stai during an Aug. 26 ASI Board of Directors meeting explaining the campus’ voting procedures. “I’d argue it’s even more important.”

Students vote at the polling place at Ursa Minor on March 3, 2020. (Courtesy of Tom Zasadzinski)

For many campus community members, the election’s importance is clear. In late August, the California Faculty Association issued a dire warning, urging CSU faculty to vote no on the recall question, lauding Newsom as a “productive partner” in protecting higher education and raising concerns about some recall candidates’ promises to cut higher education funding.

Mario Guerrero, chair of the Department of Political Science, echoed those concerns, arguing that ousting Newsom from office would be “an affront to the CSU” after the governor’s willingness to allocate more funds to the university system this summer.

“We already are suffering from not enough investment from the state and it’s alarming if we have this recall go through and then you have somebody who’s potentially going to attack higher education on the campus by defunding it,” said Guerrero.

While Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate to replace Newsom, does not include his views on higher education in his campaign’s website, he recently told CalMatters that his appointments to the state Board of Education would mirror the philosophy of former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Still, with California’s regular gubernatorial election taking place Nov. 8, 2022, and Democrats remaining in control of other parts of the state government, Christopher Stoughton, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, believes the short term will “kind of blunt” any new ideas a potential replacement would have.

“If the governor’s a Republican and the legislature is all controlled by the Democrats and he’s not, he’s going to have a tough time getting anything through the legislative branch,” said Stoughton.

Source: FiveThirtyEight | Polling average of latest recall polls, updated Sept. 5 (Sharon Wu | The Poly Post)

Despite Democrats’ stronghold in the state government and the party’s strong base of support, polling predicts a more competitive election. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average as of Sept. 2, 52.1% of Californians have indicated they prefer to keep Newsom in office while 43.7% wish to recall the governor.

Kevin Black, a gender, ethnic, and multicultural studies student, believes the recall effort is not without merit.

“I believe the main reason that people are mad at Gov. Newsom can be chalked up to his mishandling of California’s funding allocations,” stated Black.  “To the average Californian, his allocations do not make sense.”

Other students view this recall as threatening to the already tenuous return to campus.

“Depending on which way the election goes, this could affect me as a student because it would determine the safety of our campus,” said Savannah Pierson, a civil engineering student. “Personally, I do not like virtual classes, so potentially being virtual for the foreseeable future is not positive.”

Guerrero attributes the election’s competitiveness to the inherent difficulty of governing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID, as a governor, is really hard to win the public on because it’s polarizing,” said Guerrero. “You’re just going to make people unhappy with whatever you choose to do, even if you’re protecting citizens.”

The original recall petition, first submitted in February 2020, was not on the basis of Newsom’s pandemic policy. Instead, it lambasted the governor for his policies regarding undocumented immigrants and the state’s high taxes and homelessness rates. However, while the pandemic raged, the recall effort was buoyed both by opposition to the state’s strict policies — which Newsom was criticized for flouting — and by a Sacramento judge’s ruling in November 2020 that the recall effort could extend its signature collecting deadline to trigger the special election.

As only the second gubernatorial recall in state history, scrutiny of the procedure itself is receiving more attention. With a single ballot asking Californians to vote yes or no on the recall question and simultaneously asking voters to select among an unwieldy number of candidates if the governor were recalled, the process can be confusing. In Guerrero’s words, “The recall system in California is bananas, to put it mildly.”

The recall is a testament to the early 20th-century Progressive movement’s push toward direct democracy. The ballot’s two simultaneous questions render political parties formally incapable of nominating their preferred candidates. Yet, as argued by political scientist Seth Masket in his book “The Inevitable Party,” parties can adapt and overcome formal limitations.

In 2003, when Democratic Gov. Gray Davis faced a recall — the state’s first for a governor — the Republican Party was remarkably coordinated in its efforts, coalescing early around moderate Republican and well-known action movie actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I think they rightly saw that (the recall), given the overall partisan profile of the state, as the only chance they would have to take the governor’s mansion for a generation,” said Masket in an interview with The Poly Post describing Republicans’ 2003 strategy. “They realized they needed two things: They needed a strong candidate that they could rally behind and they needed everyone else to go away.”

Things are different in 2021.

California’s GOP announced in early August that it would not endorse a candidate for governor, with party officials arguing that doing so would divide the party and obscure its focus of removing Newsom from office. Instead, the state party’s website urges voters to vote to recall Newsom and vote for any of two dozen Republican candidates.

More so than campaign strategy, lack of coordination also presents concerns about the election’s representativeness. In a scenario where Newsom is recalled by a slim margin on the first question, the state’s next governor could be elected with only a small plurality.

“If Larry Elder or someone else comes in with 15% or 20% of the vote … that is going to make governing very hard,” said Masket. “We have no idea if that person will have any contact with the state legislature if they have any ability to actually want to work with them on a budget or some sort of coherent legislative package. You’ll have most of the state waking up and not even knowing who their governor is, no less what that person stands for. That creates a democratic legitimacy problem; it creates just a very pragmatic governing problem.”

As for Democrats’ coordination, with no other prominent Democrat in the race, the party is squarely focused on evading the first question, a strategy Guerrero characterized as sound.

“You don’t want to encourage Democrats to vote for the recall because there’s a viable replacement on the Democratic side,” said Guerrero

While the standard deadline to register to vote has passed, students can conditionally register to vote in person through the campus’ TurboVote site.

CPP’s voting center will be in the AGRIscapes Visitors Center. Beginning Sept. 11, it will operate between 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Sept. 14; on that day, hours will be from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Campus community members may drop off their mail-in ballots first sent to registered voters in August or vote on campus the day of the election.

“Voting is important regardless of who you’re voting for or what you’re voting for; being educated and getting your voice out there is more important than anything,” said Stai. “No politician is perfect. No political party is always going to be the right answer. It’s just about taking care of yourself and taking care of students. Being fair. Being just.”

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