OAKLAND — Governor Gavin Newsom will appear on recall ballots without his Democratic Party label after losing a last-minute legal fight on Monday.
Newsom’s team had made an effort to correct an error that will now strip him of his party preference on the ballots for the September 14 recall. Newsom sued Secretary of State Shirley Weber in late June, arguing that the law imposes an unnecessarily early deadline for recalls to request their party designation and that voters deserve to see that information.
However, after hearing arguments on Friday, Judge James P. Arguelles ruled against Newsom late on Monday. Arguelles had already played a key role in the recall by giving proponents an additional four months to collect signatures — an extension that ultimately coincided with the worst months of the California pandemic.
Arguelles disagreed with an argument from Newsom’s attorney that party status was an essential piece of information for voters, writing that the law afforded candidates “discretion to inform recalled voters of their party preferences, as opposed to imposing a requirement that voters are so informed.” Arguelles rejected the idea that a “good faith mistake” on Newsom’s part should spare him.
“Governor Newsom argues that unique circumstances in his early party nomination support an injunction apologizing for the non-compliance,” Arguelles wrote, but “the court is unconvinced.”
Newsom’s legal team had called for a decision this week before Weber finalizes the nominee list Friday so the counties can begin preparing the ballots.
A low-profile 2019 law that Newsom signed allows elected officials targeted by recalls to list their party designations. But Newsom’s legal team did not ask the governor to exercise that option when they responded to the recall request in February 2020, the formal window to make that request. Newsom’s team called the omission unintentional, arguing that voters would benefit from knowing the governor’s party.
Attorneys for recall advocates and for Republican nominee Caitlyn Jenner argued that the law clearly prohibits Newsom from making such an amendment, and they attacked Newsom’s attempts to do so as an example of his undue distortion of the law. law for its purposes.
“Basically, this boils down to whether the governor of California should follow the unequivocal law, and it’s just a law he signed,” advocates’ attorney Eric Early argued Friday. “This may be a bitter pill for the governor to swallow, but he has to swallow it.”
While the election is scheduled for Sept. 14, many more voters are expected to vote sooner via ballot papers that election officials will send to every registered, active voter. Counties must send those ballots before Aug. 16.
While Newsom leads his Republican rivals in the polls and fundraising and capitalizes on California’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate, the enthusiasm lies with the governor’s conservative enemies. That raises the stakes for Newsom to show his Democratic base.
The impact of the ruling could be muted given Newsom’s wide brand awareness in California. The California Democratic Party — which has so far spent about $1.5 million against the recall and has promised a massive turnout — said Monday it had not been deterred by Arguelles’ decision.
“Today’s ruling does not change the facts: California Democrats are united behind Governor @GavinNewsom,” the party said in a tweet. “We are ready to organize to defeat the Republican recall attempt.”
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