Bears, Vetoes, and Recalls


What do a man in a bear suit, a recall, and California Governor Gavin Newsom have in common? They are all part of a stranger than fiction story about the latest bill to fall victim to the Governor’s veto pen.

This week, Governor Newsom vetoed California Senate Bill 660. Don’t remember that one?  It would have banned paying signature gatherers based on the number of signatures they obtain for state or local initiatives, referendums or a recall petition for the ballot.

Paying signature gatherers is a tried-and-true political strategy in California. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), California has permitted paid signature gathering, or petition circulators, since the early 1900s. These are usually the people you see outside big box stores and grocery stores gathering signatures and trying to get your attention.

Newsom’s veto of SB 660 is another chapter in an interesting political history of the bill’s author, California State Senator Josh Newman.

Back in the spring of 2017, the California Legislature approved a $5.2 billion a year gas tax increase to fund repairs to the state’s transportation infrastructure. Senator Newman, who represented the 29th Senate District in Orange County at the time, voted for the gas tax.

Newman was a surprise winner in the past election, edging out Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, a Republican, by roughly 2,500 votes during the 2016 election. But Newman’s support of the gas tax in 2017 brought about maybe the only thing he and Governor Gavin Newsom may every have in common: a recall.

After a successfully gathering enough signatures to qualify the recall petition, Orange County voters recalled Newman in the summer of 2018 and elected Chang. The 30th recall of a state senator in California history made political waves. Recall supporters ran solely on the gas tax issue and the loss of Newman’s seat broke the Democrat-controlled supermajority in the state senate.

Chang held Senate District 29 until 2020, when Newman defeated her to reclaim the seat. It may become clear now why Senator Newman wrote a bill to ban signature gatherers, those seemingly responsible for his recall, upon his return to the state legislature. And it is interesting that Newsom, himself the target of a recall using the same tactics, chose to veto the bill.

Where does the bear suit come in? During the 2016 election, Senator Newman was well known for campaigning in a full bear suit.

This is the second time Newsom vetoed a pending state law related to banning signature gathering. This time around, Newsom said the bill would benefit powerful special interests. Whatever the California Legislature thinks about prohibiting the payment of signature gatherers, the current governor and his administration seem bearish on the idea.

Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager for PRI.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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