1st Edition

California’s Recall Election of Gavin Newsom COVID-19 and the Test of Leadership

    172 Pages
    by Routledge

    172 Pages
    by Routledge

    California went through a political earthquake of sorts when the state recalled Governor Gray Davis in 2003. In 2021, the state faced another political turning point with the threatened recall of Governor Gavin Newsom. Less than two years after Newsom’s overwhelming election victory, more than two million Californians signed on to the recall effort, hoping to expel him from office in a special election. How could such a monumental turnabout be possible?  Normally, the political headwinds would be much too strong for a movement to oust a governor who had decisively vanquished his opponent. But--with the COVID-19 pandemic dominating every aspect of society, including politics--these weren’t normal times. Organizing a recall election is a demanding enterprise: it takes abundant political energy, tremendous amounts of anger with the status quo, and mounds of money. Yet, for the second time in less than two decades, such wheels were set in motion. What is it that makes California so dynamic yet so fragile? This book explains that paradox and, in the process, enlightens readers about the recall process, the challenges of federalism, and the pitfalls of direct democracy. It examines the underlying conditions that expose a state with poorly linked institutions, a bitterly divided society, and a governor who had to act under nearly impossible conditions, demonstrating his strengths and vulnerabilities along the way. It’s a story that could happen only in California, a state with a history of "only" stories.

    Designed to be useful in a variety of college courses, this book is the first to unveil the Newsom backstory and will appeal to pundits and politicos as well as interested general readers.

    About the Authors


    1. California: The Perpetually Restless Society

    2. Gavin Newsom: Innovator or Illusionist?

    3. Becoming Governor: Newsom's Ambitious Agenda

    4. The Plague of Covid-19

    5. The Newsom Recall Movement Grows

    6. The Recall Campaign

    7. The Struggle to Govern California


    Larry N. Gerston is professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University.

    Mary Currin-Percival is associate professor of political science and director of the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at San Jose State University.

    Garrick L. Percival is professor and chair of the political science department at San Jose State University.

    Praise for California’s Recall Election of Gavin Newsom

    "The authors have done a tremendous job of not just offering a comprehensive and insightful overview of the recall itself, but more importantly of putting this event in the proper political, historical and societal context. This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand California — where we’ve been, how we got here and where we’re headed."

    -- Dan Schnur, former Chair, California Fair Political Practices Commission

    "The true story of California's Recall Election is stranger than fiction. This book has lessons to teach, and we have much to learn."

    -- Anjuli Verma, University of California--Santa Cruz

    "Timely. Well-researched with excellent contributions. This book is a perfect example of how the politics of the Golden State affect us all. This latest California political earthquake – only the second ever recall of a Governor in that state – is just the latest example of the weaponization of democracy in our era of ‘Protest Politics.’Gerston and colleagues provide a rich, must-read about this growing dynamic in our politics."

    --David McCuan, Sonoma State University

    “California's 2021 recall was propelled by forces as distant as the state's Progressive past, as recent as the pandemic, and ultimately defeated by the unique political character of its target, Gavin Newsom.  This book from three leading experts on California politics weaves all strands of this recall and this governor together, and long after most Californians have forgotten 2021's election, readers can use it to contemplate what kind of democracy our state has become.”

    --Thad Kouser, University of California--San Diego