In California, the ballots have already been sent out for a recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), which has surprised many observers in the heavily Democratic state. Since the California Democratic Party refused to run a Democrat against Newsom, it is likely that if the recall succeeds, then Newsom’s successor will be a Republican. One frontrunner is Larry Elder, a controversial conservative radio host, who accrued roughly $5 million in donations by early August. Other prominent candidates include Mayor of San Diego Kevin Faulconer, celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, and real estate YouTube celebrity Kevin Paffrath, the most high-profile Democratic challenger.
A major objection to the recall process is that the second half of the election is “first past the post,” which means that whoever receives the most votes, even if this number is a small minority of votes cast statewide, will become the next governor. There are forty-six candidates on the ballot vying to succeed Newsom. If the vote were split evenly, then the winner could become Governor of California with less than three percent of the vote. This has led to accusations that the process is unconstitutional, inasmuch as Newsom could lose with 49 percent of the vote while the winner could win with a significantly lower margin.
The new governor’s authority will be somewhat limited by the fact that California’s next election takes place in on November 2022. Moreover, if the governor is a Republican, his or her authority would be checked to some extent by the California legislature, which has a Democratic supermajority.
With that said, there are several things that the new governor could do independent of the legislative branch. In the short term, he or she could alter or lift California’s mask mandates, which Newsom largely imposed via executive fiat, independent of the state legislature. Elder has pledged to eliminate them immediately.
The new governor could also appoint judges and fill other vacant seats. Perhaps most importantly, in the event of a vacancy in statewide office—such as the retirement of Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator, who celebrated her 88th birthday in June—the governor would have the authority to fill the empty slot. As the Senate is currently tied at 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, a Republican taking a Democrat’s seat would have dramatic consequences on national politics.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.