In summary

In the run-up to the Sept. 14 election, California voters should be aware of four critical issues at stake and look beyond the political ads to gauge the serious consequences of a successful recall.

By Paul Kronenberg, Special to CalMatters

Paul Kronenberg is a retired trade association executive with 40-plus years experience working with California’s Legislature and regulatory agencies, pkronenberg9@gmail.com.

As the Sept. 14 recall election comes into focus, voters need to look beyond the political ads and behind the curtain to gauge the serious consequences of a successful recall. There are immediate policy, governance and monetary effects to keep in mind when ballots are cast.

Here are four critical impacts of recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom:

The fate of hundreds of bills that must be signed or vetoed by Oct. 10: In choosing Sept. 14 for the recall election instead of a date later in the fall, Democrats may have compounded the havoc if Newsom loses by likely putting their legislative agenda in jeopardy.

Democrats fiddled with the timing of the recall purportedly on assumptions of improvements in COVID-19 infection numbers and better polling data, but didn’t build in a safety margin for bill signing. In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis had practically the entire 30-day signing period to act before facing voters. Newsom has four days. 

The Legislature returns from summer recess on Aug. 16 and has until Sept. 10 to pass hundreds of bills that were introduced starting last January. 

Once the Legislature passes the bills, they methodically wend their way to the governor’s desk for signature or veto. Due to the legislative process, it’s likely that only a fraction of them will be available for action by the governor on the four days before the recall election. The governor — whoever that may be — must sign or veto all legislation by Oct. 10.

After the election, the total vote certification process can last 38 days. It could happen quicker, but if Newsom is recalled, it would be to Democrats’ advantage to string the process out. The reason for this is that between the election and the certification, Newsom will operate as a lame duck, and use his time to veto or sign all the legislation that reaches him. A more prompt certification would create the possibility that the replacement governor could torpedo the bulk of the legislative agenda of 2021.

The 2022-2023 budget: Budgets are always contentious, but what will happen if the next budget is reshaped by a Republican administration with vastly different priorities? The Department of Finance develops the initial budget, but in the event of a recall, it will be under new leadership with new directives. The final budget will be crafted by the Legislature’s Democratic majority, but with the 2022 fall election on the line, it’s clear there will be line item vetoes by a new governor. 

The state response to the pandemic, wildfires, drought and energy supply: The transition would be rocky if there is a recall, even if the replacement governor is able to tap knowledgeable folks for short-term Cabinet, agency and department appointments.  Existing programs would likely suffer, which presents difficulties for Californians trying to emerge from the pandemic and for leaders trying to solve intractable wildfire, drought and energy problems.

A clash of views would be likely, because 2022 is a regular gubernatorial election year. It’s fair to assume that the pandemic emergency powers granted by the Legislature would be rescinded to curtail the new governor’s power. That would hinder the government’s ongoing response to the pandemic.

How new appointments will change priorities: Even with only 15 months remaining in the term, there could be opportunities for multiple appointments to boards, commissions and the courts, as well as any vacancies among state constitutional offices and its U.S. Senate seats. One would expect the state Senate to oppose confirmations which makes these appointments temporary in nature. That still could reshape the direction of governance and public policy. The undercurrent of concern over Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s status raises the prospect that with a Republican governor in place, the narrow Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate could be in jeopardy.

It’s unclear if voters will recall Newsom based on his performance over the past 18 months, but it is apparent that a successful recall would unleash a lot of uncontemplated actions and consequences. Given the stakes, not the sound bites, voters should act with caution.

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Paul Kronenberg has previously written about the lieutenant governor’s role in a recall election.

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