Reiff: Recall Target State Sen. Josh Newman Says He’s ‘Not a Politician, Not a Lefty, a Centrist’

Recall target Josh Newman of Fullerton says he’s “probably the least ideological Democrat in the state Senate” and dismisses as “hyperbole” attempts to portray him as a “crazy lefty” who is out of step with his traditionally Republican-leaning district.

“The irony is I’m the guy who’s targeted … I’d argue that as an Army vet, former business guy, I’m actually quite reflective of my district, which is a politically centrist district,” Newman said on the “Inside OC with Rick Reiff” public affairs show.

Newman voted along with 25 of his fellow Democrats and just one Republican to increase gas taxes and vehicle license fees, a measure that passed with the bare-minimum 27 votes. And that has triggered a GOP-led recall campaign; those wanting to undo the Democrats’ two-thirds super-majority in the Legislature see Newman, a freshman lawmaker with less than a year in office, as the weakest link.

“The tax is an opportunity to try to overturn the result of the last election, mine,” Newman said. “It’s really about changing the balance of power in the Legislature.”

Recall backers have validated more than enough signatures for a recall, but are now in court challenging a new law that gives petition signers time to rescind their names. Newman said he supports the Democratic counter-measure because it is “clear” that “a very large, indeterminate number of people” were deceived into thinking the recall petition was actually a petition to repeal the gas tax.

Nonetheless, Newman said the Democratic moves will merely delay the Republicans. He said there will be a recall election sometime next year and “I accept the recall process.”

Newman strongly defended his vote for the gas tax: “We have a real problem. Our roads and bridges are in sub-standard condition due to 20 years of neglect.”

“I thoroughly appreciate those are precious dollars that are an additional burden to voters, motorists.” Newman said. He said he is open to ideas for spending transportation dollars more wisely, including from his Senate Republican colleague and fierce Caltrans critic John Moorlach.

But “you don’t solve one problem by ignoring another,” Newman said of his gas-tax vote.

Newman recounted his underdog campaign last year. A political novice, he out-polled favored Democrat Sukhee Kang, former Irvine mayor, in the top-two primary to advance to the general election, where he edged favored Republican Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang.

Newman trailed Chang after election night, but prevailed over the next three weeks as votes continued to be counted from his far-flung district, which takes in parts of three counties — Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino.

“I was down and then sort of dumbstruck and then elated,” he said.

His unorthodox campaign included a bear mascot, which was Newman himself – he said he didn’t want to subject anyone else to heatstroke from wearing the heavy costume. And his campaign signs – a “Hello” name tag signed “Newman,” a cheeky reference to “Hello, Newman” from the TV show “Seinfeld” – won the national political consulting Pollie Award for best yard sign.

“I’m not a politician,” Newman said. “I didn’t have the relationships or the endorsements or the access to funds.” Especially in the primary, before sizable Democratic donations became available, “I had to figure out how to run a creative, low-dollar campaign.”

Newman said he decided to run for public office after testifying before a state legislative committee on the issue of veteran employment. He was perturbed that many lawmakers were checking their cell phones instead of listening to him:

“I came home and my wife admits, although she’s regretted it since, she said, ‘Hey, if you really want to make a difference you should think about running.’”

The show aired this week on PBS SoCal, KDOC and Cox, and can be viewed on YouTube. 

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