Will Recall Election be a Harbinger for Gas Tax Repeal?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Much was made at the recent state GOP convention about the gas tax repeal initiative being a magnet to bring Republican voters to the polls in November. Whether the magnet has true pulling power is yet to be determined but a test of that theory comes soon with the recall election of Democratic Sen. Josh Newman. Will the recall effort give us any hints about how the gas tax repeal will turn out?

Remember Newman faces the recall in the 29th senatorial district that is made up of parts of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties because opponents of the gas tax charged that Newman’s vote was crucial in achieving the two-thirds vote necessary to pass the gas tax increase bill. The leader of the recall effort, former San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio, is also the lead supporter of the gas tax repeal initiative.

A great effort was made to tie Newman to the gas tax increase in calling for the recall. Newman supporters charged opponents with telling petition signers that signing the petitions would stop the car tax rather than the real purpose of the petition was forcing a recall.

When the recall was announced, opponents of the recall said it was all about politics. Newman, a narrow winner to capture the senate seat in a competitive district, if removed, would cost the Democrats their two-thirds supermajority.

Political hands were dirty on all sides with the legislature and governor, seeing that the recall would happen, changing the rules to require more time to certify the recall signatures meaning the governor ended up setting the recall election on the June primary date instead of at a stand-alone special election as has happened in the past assuring a higher voter turnout and a better opportunity for Newman to prevail.

With focus now on the gas tax repeal initiative itself, the Newman recall election with its gas tax connection has slipped into the background. Now it moves front and center. Newman has the advantage being an incumbent and a large campaign war chest. Over $2 million in donations has been raised to defeat the recall, the large portion of the money coming from Democratic –friendly unions who want to maintain the two-thirds majority.

Newman’s opponents have much less money. The state Republican Party has contributed to defeat Newman. Newman has drawn a handful of opponents who hope to capture the seat if Newman is recalled, but their campaign coffers are relatively thin. Ling Ling Chang, the former Republican assemblywoman who Newman defeated in the senate race, is the only one with over $100,000 in donations.

While this recall election is specific to the district, if Newman is recalled, supporters of the gas tax repeal will certainly trumpet the result as a sign that the gas tax increase is in trouble with the voters. However, if Newman prevails expect to hear reasons why the gas tax issue could not overcome Newman’s incumbency, big donations, and voters’ reluctance to recall a sitting legislator. If Newman holds the seat, supporters of the recall will reduce the gas tax issue in importance when analyzing the election result, but such an outcome would not be a positive sign for November ballot measure.

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