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Newsom survives recall. What state could try to recall its governor next?

Only 19 states allow governors to be recalled, but governors in several have faced recent recall attempts

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a rally in Long Beach, Calif., ahead of the California gubernatorial recall election.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a rally on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Long Beach, Calif., ahead of the California gubernatorial recall election. Newsom isn’t the only governor who faced the threat of recall this year, but he is the only one whose recall actually make it onto the ballot.
Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

California Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t the only governor who’s faced the threat of recall this year, but his recall is the only one to make it onto the ballot.

With 70% of the vote counted, 64% voted against recalling the Democratic governor, stopping a Republican-led effort to remove him from office before his first-term ended next year, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press, which called the race Tuesday night.

In the first six months of 2021, there have been 164 recall efforts aimed at state and local elected officials, according to Ballotpedia’s midyear recall report.

Since 2020, Newsom and the governors of six other states have had recall attempts made against them. Most of these efforts failed to go to a vote, but the attempt in North Dakota to oust Republican Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford is ongoing; recall supporters have to collect 89,464 signatures by June 2022, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

Actually recalling a governor is much easier said than done. Only 19 states plus the District of Columbia allow state officials to be recalled, and in United States history, just four gubernatorial recall efforts have ever made it onto the ballot, according to the Eagleton Institute of Politics Center on the American Governor.

What makes recall hard to pull off is the signature requirement. You have to collect a lot of signatures, and fast. In California, for example, organizers must collect anywhere from 10% to 30% of the number of registered voters, depending on the jurisdiction, and they typically only have between 40 to 160 days to do it.

“The combination makes it difficult,” said John Weingart, director of Rutgers’ Center on the American Governor.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a judge gave California’s recall supporters extra time to collect signatures. That ruling helps explain how their recall effort made it onto the ballot.

The first gubernatorial recall was in 1921, when North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier was recalled, and the second didn’t come until 2003, when California Gov. Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger. A 2012 recall in Wisconsin was the third ever, and the first one that was defeated — Gov. Scott Walker was able to remain in office until 2019.

There aren’t enough recalls to suss out any sort of trends, but the fact that three out of four of them have happened in the 21st century feels apt.

“I think it does go along with the spirit of the current times in which politicians are not respected for the most part by the public,” Weingart said.

Here are the governors besides Newsom who have recently faced recall attempts:

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Republican:

Opponents began working to recall Dunleavy back in 2019 over spending cuts he instituted after taking office, but they failed to get enough signatures after two years. Recall supporters dropped their efforts this August, choosing instead to focus on defeating Dunleavy in next year’s gubernatorial election.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Republican:

Ducey has faced two recall efforts over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic from both directions. The first came in May 2020 from the right in reaction to Ducey’s shutdown order to slow the spread of the virus. No signatures were submitted, per Ballotpedia, and Ducey soon lifted COVID-19 restrictions and mask mandates.

New reported cases began rising weeks later, and the group Accountable Arizona launched a recall effort in September 2020. Organizers argued that Ducey’s relaxation of public health measures was a violation of his oath of office. The group suspended its efforts last December because it was difficult to gather signatures as infections rose through the winter.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Democrat:

Edwards faced a recall threat from critics of his mask mandate and COVID-19 restrictions beginning last year, but the effort failed in March 2021 due to a lack of signatures. Louisiana law requires signatures totaling 20% of voters within 180 days, and the recall submitted signatures totaling less than 1% of voters.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Democrat:

Since 2020, Whitmer has faced 34 recall attempts, including multiple submitted by a handful of the same Michigan residents opposed to her public health restrictions. The attempts were all withdrawn or rejected, according to Ballotpedia, and some Republicans in the state said the failed recalls only strengthened Whitmer because under state law, she was exempt from contribution limits while facing recall. She raised a record-breaking $8.6 million between January and July 2021.

“All of these grassroots conservatives who want to get rid of Whitmer need to get with the program that they’re currently making it harder, not easier,” Republican strategist Fred Wszolek told Bridge Michigan.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Republican:

Burgum and his Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford are facing recall from a guy they beat in last year’s primary. Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Coachman had petitions to recall Burgum “for the reasons of contempt of the voters and negligence in/of office” approved this June, and they’ll have one year to collect 89,464 signatures to make it onto the ballot.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Democrat:

The group Washingtonians to Recall Inslee filed a petition to recall Inslee in May 2021 over his public health restrictions. Organizers said Inslee’s policies and stay-home order interfered with their rights, including the right to assemble for social, religious and recreational gatherings.

A Washington judge dismissed the petition in June. The Washington attorney general’s office has said the allegations made against Inslee were “legally and factually insufficient.”