Sacramento lawmakers dealt a blow Monday night to a controversial effort by three Orange County supervisors’ to extend their own term limits – with the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom banning any new local ballot measures during the governor’s upcoming recall election.
The Monday night approval by Democratic officials, as part of a package of changes to recall election rules, came at lightning speed – just days after the proposed law changes were publicly introduced last week.
The new law bans any local ballot measures from the recall election, unless the local measure was put on the ballot by June 15.
That could block the OC measure, since supervisors first took action on June 22 to put it on the recall ballot.
“I do believe that bill blocks the Board [of Supervisors’] decision to put a term limit extension on the ballot,” said OC Supervisor Don Wagner, who opposes the term limits measure, in a text message Monday to Voice of OC.
There was no response Monday to requests for comment from the supervisors who voted to put the term limit extension on the ballot: Andrew Do, Lisa Bartlett, and Doug Chaffee.
Wagner said he believes Orange County’s proposal might not have been the main target of the bill, but rather boosting Newsom’s chances of winning the recall election.
“I think that was the whole idea,” said Wagner, who serves as a co-chair of the recall effort.
“It maybe wasn’t targeted specifically to Orange County. The governor just doesn’t want anything on the recall ballot that could turn out more voters potentially supportive of the recall.”
Voice of OC asked the governor’s office for Newsom’s response to allegations that the new law is geared to help him avoid being recalled.
Newsom’s office referred comment on that question to his campaign spokesman, who didn’t have an immediate comment.
“Yesterday evening the Governor signed major components of the 2021-2022 budget — including getting critical relief to renters and standards for local government election operations,” the governor’s office said in a statement about the new law.
“We will continue our productive discussions with the legislature as we work toward finalizing the budget.”
Last Tuesday, OC supervisors narrowly voted to put a measure on the recall ballot that would extend their term limits while describing it on the ballot simply as a “lifetime ban after three terms.”
There was a wave of opposition to the supervisors’ effort from residents on both sides of the political aisle.
Conservative and liberal residents – who waited 7 hours to speak Tuesday when the item was brought up at the end of the supervisor’s agenda – called the measure’s language a “sneaky” and misleading effort by supervisors to extend their own power.
The only public comments supporting the measure were from the three supervisors who voted to put it on the ballot. They said it would create a lifetime ban similar to state lawmakers and many other counties, while Do acknowledged it would extend the current supervisors’ limits by another 12 years.
The next day, top state legislators amended budget trailer bills to add language that would ban any local ballot measures from the recall election, unless the local measure was put on the ballot by June 15.
The most widely-noticed part of the bill speeds up the timeline for when the recall election can take place, essentially eliminating 30 days from the required process – a move some Democrats think will help Newsom’s chances in the election.
Several Republican leaders are crying foul about the overall changes to the recall election rules.
“The Democrats are attempting to rig the outcome of the Recall, but just like Newsom’s policies, they will fail,” said Tom Del Beccaro, a former chairman of the California Republican Party who is now chair of the pro-recall group Rescue California.
“Manipulating state election code at the last hour to benefit one political outcome is corruption and undemocratic,” he added.
Democrats pushed back, saying recall proponents want the election to happen quickly.
“This bill ensures the election happens as quickly as possible, which, my belief is, that what the recall was about, but also ensuring that as many Californians who want to participate can participate in this election,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), according to the Sacramento Bee.
After OC supervisors moved last week to extend their term limits with a ballot description of a “lifetime ban,” a movement developed to write arguments against the measure if it does make it onto the ballot.
“I am very disappointed that Bartlett and Do resorted to this misleading term limit proposal,” said Shirley Grindle, a longtime county government watchdog in OC.
“It is so apparent that they’re putting their self interest before anything else,” she added.
As for Chaffee, who voted with Bartlett and Do to put it on the ballot, Grindle said:
“Chaffee should take another look at this. His naiveness about county politics is showing.”
Do, Bartlett and Chaffee didn’t return requests for their response to Grindle’s critiques.
If supervisors can’t get the term limits measure on the ballot until the next primary election – a year from now – it could be too late for it to extend terms in time for Bartlett to be able to run for re-election.
That’s because she’s currently termed out and her final term ends in next year’s election.
But could supervisors call their own special election this fall or winter to try to get the measure passed in time?
“I don’t know whether the board could call a special election. There are limits on that and I’ve not looked further into it since I see no chance it happens,” Wagner said late last week.
“The cost would be exorbitant and, by definition, affect only one person: Supervisor Bartlett, since she is the only person on the planet immediately facing a term limit the ordinance would be trying to change,” he added.
“No one else would be affected such that they could not wait for the matter to go on the next regularly scheduled ballot and the cost of a special election thus be avoided.”
As far as Sacramento changing the law to ban new local measures from the recall ballot, Wagner said he’s “unsurprised” and expects the amendment to pass.
“I believe the majority party correctly worries that a term limit measure such as this one will bring out voters who otherwise might not come to the polls and who would be more sympathetic to the idea of recalling the governor,” Wagner said.
“Those are precisely the voters the Sacramento majority does not want to come out in this special election,” he added.
“So they move to suppress votes by changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.