Why Does California Have Recalls?

A brief history of the recall in California.,


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ImageA digital billboard reminding people to vote in the recall election, in Rancho Cordova.
A digital billboard reminding people to vote in the recall election, in Rancho Cordova.Credit…Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

The big day is in less than two weeks.

On Sept. 14, voters will make their final decisions about whether Gov. Gavin Newsom should keep his job.

For both sides, the stakes are unbelievably high: There’s a very real possibility that a Republican could wrest control of a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one.

This race may be the first time you’ve heard of recalls, or perhaps they first popped up on your radar during the 2003 election that thrust Arnold Schwarzenegger into power. But the practice has a much longer, storied history in California.

Let’s go back briefly to 1776.

After declaring independence from the British, some of the original 13 colonies, including Pennsylvania and Vermont, wrote recall provisions into their state constitutions as a way to guard against the power of elected officials, said Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at Wagner College’s Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform. Recalls are a process by which voters can remove officials from office before the end of their terms.

But the idea of the recall did not make it into the U.S. Constitution, and instead went into hibernation for more than a century.

“It took a Philadelphia-born doctor in Los Angeles to truly revive the recall,” Spivak writes in his book, “Recall Elections: From Alexander Hamilton to Gavin Newsom.


A portrait of John Randolph Haynes.Credit…Press Reference Library Notables of the West, Volume II, 1915, page 174

In 1898, a Los Angeles physician named John Randolph Haynes proposed adding a recall measure to the city’s charter as a way of rooting out corruption. Five years later, the city became one of the first places in the nation to adopt the recall, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Los Angeles, as always, was a trendsetter.

In the seven years that followed, 25 other California cities passed similar measures, the newspaper reports.

And in 1911, Californians voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that made the state the third to allow recalls. (In the same election, voters legalized women’s suffrage by a much smaller margin.)

Now, 110 years later, there are 19 states where state officials can be recalled. But California, for better or worse, remains the unofficial king of the recall.

This year alone, dozens of recall efforts against state and local officials are underway. In the past 60 years, every one of our governors has faced a recall attempt. And California is the only place where a recall of a governor has made the ballot twice.

Of course, the most well-known recall election in U.S. history played out in California, in which Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, was replaced with Schwarzenegger, a Republican. The star power of that election made it a national sensation.

So, yes, while there’s a pandemic and devastating wildfires that may be distracting Californians, it’s also possible there’s another reason this election hasn’t captured the attention of the state the way it did in 2003. It’s old hat.

“When something happens a second time, it doesn’t have quite the impact it did the first,” said Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. “It has been a surprisingly quiet recall election, given the stakes.”

For more:

  • The New York Times has answers to all your frequently asked questions about the recall.

  • My colleague Shawn Hubler was on “The Daily” on Monday to discuss the election. Listen here.

  • Larry Elder, the leading candidate vying to replace Newsom, said this week he didn’t think it was necessary for young people to get vaccinated against Covid-19 or for children to wear masks at school, CNN reports. The news outlet also published brief descriptions of the top candidates and their stances on major issues.

  • The Los Angeles Times’s editorial board reached out to 40 of the lesser-known recall candidates and asked them to fill out a short questionnaire to gauge their positions. Read their responses.

  • Latinos across the country shifted incrementally toward Donald J. Trump in 2020. Now, polls suggest this once reliable and fast-growing voting bloc for Democrats is softening on Newsom, another reminder that Latino support for Democrats is not a given. More from Politico.

Tell us what else you want to know about the recall. Email your questions to CAtoday@nytimes.com.


A firefighter working to save a home in Meyers on Monday.Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times


  • Caldor fire: Despite firefighters’ best efforts, the Caldor fire burst across a granite ridge into the Lake Tahoe basin, where it now threatens tens of thousands of homes.

    Experts believe that the challenge lays bare a certain futility in trying to fully control the most aggressive wildfires. Read more from The Times. Plus, watch a video of the blaze.

  • Delays in water projects: In 2014, in the middle of a severe drought, voters told the state to borrow $7.5 billion and use part of it to build projects to stockpile more water.

    Seven years later, that drought has come and gone, replaced by an even hotter and drier one, but none of the water storage projects scheduled to receive that money have been built, The Associated Press reports.

  • Statewide vaccine mandate: Democratic lawmakers have dropped a proposal to require that all Californians show proof of vaccination to enter indoor businesses and work in offices. The bill would have been challenging to pass in the final weeks of the legislative session and was already providing fodder for the upcoming recall election, The Los Angeles Times reports.

  • Forest closures: All of California’s national forests have been closed because of wildfires across the state, so you may need to rethink your Labor Day camping plans, reports LAist.

  • California stimulus checks: On Friday, the first batch of the new state stimulus checks were sent out to 600,000 Californians. The payments total $354 million, KTLA 5 reports.

  • College diplomas: Under a bill sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom this week, California public college students could choose the names they want on their diplomas, a measure aimed at aiding transgender and nonbinary students, reports The Associated Press.

  • Pandemic lawsuits: The State of California has paid $4.36 million in lawyers’ fees and other costs to settle lawsuits related to public health orders during the pandemic, reports The San Francisco Chronicle.


  • Afghan refugees: A family with three young daughters recently arrived in San Diego from Kabul and has watched Afghanistan revert into what it was 20 years ago, the father told The Los Angeles Times. But unlike him, he said, his children will grow up “in a country that has everything.”

  • New protest rules: The Los Angeles City Council is moving forward with a proposal to bar protests within 300 feet of a target’s home, LAist reports.


  • Earthquake: A magnitude-4.1 earthquake hit Monterey County near Pinnacles National Park around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, reports NBC Bay Area.


Credit…Joel Goldberg for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne. Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.

This version of icebox cake has a cookies-and-cream meets salted caramel flavor.

Today’s travel tip comes from Brent Kuszyk, who lives in La Canada Flintridge. Brent recommends Sonora, a town 50 miles west of Yosemite National Park:

I was up there for my son’s junior golf tournament for about five days in July. I was so impressed with the stark scenery — with golden grass blanketing the rolling hills juxtaposed with mature oak trees dotting the landscape.

It’s wide open, off the beaten path and poised to become another destination area.

Do California newspapers endorse the recall?

The Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The Mercury News, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Sacramento Bee have urged voters to vote no on the recall of Gavin Newsom, arguing that it is a waste of some $276 million or that the time to vote for or against the governor is next year, when he would run for re-election.

The Orange County Register, which is traditionally a right-of-center opinion page, recommends a yes vote and endorsed Larry Elder in an editorial that was picked up by some suburban papers under the same ownership in Southern California.

The Bakersfield Californian recommends a yes vote and endorsed Kevin Faulconer.

Read answers to more of your frequently asked questions about the California recall election here. Tell us what else you want to know about the recall at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

In California’s last high school football season, the “most prolific passing connection” was between Jake Calcagno and Teddy Booras, who play for the California High School team in San Ramon, reports the The Mercury News.

There were 56 completed passes from quarterback Booras to wide receiver Calcagno over the course of the season.

The secret to their success?

“We’re like best buds,” Booras told the newspaper.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Whoopi Goldberg voiced one in “The Lion King” (5 letters).

Steven Moity, Briana Scalia and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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