Voter Guide: 2021 California Gubernatorial Recall Election

black text on light-blue background reads: California Recall Election To-Do List: 1 Mail or drop off your ballot on or before September 14. 2 Vote no on the recall. 3 Vote for a replacement governor even if you vote no on the recall. My pick for governor: Joel Ventresca

For the second time this century, California is holding an election to recall the governor. I was 17 during the recall of Governor Davis and what I remember from that election is it seemed like a joke that Arnold Schwarzenegger would become governor. Here we are again with a bunch of apparently jokey candidates and many of them would probably do much worse for us than Schwarzenegger. It feels surreal to have another recall election. The number of candidates is overwhelming. The good news is I am here to help.

Reminders and Resources for California Voters

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on politics or government. I’m just a person who’s good at reading and looking things up. You can use this as a starting point for your own decision-making. If you’re already exhausted and you trust me, you can vote how I vote. If you think I’m a dumb idiot, you can vote the opposite of how I vote. Vote how you want, but please vote.

The Ballot

This ballot has just two questions.

Should Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?

My vote: No

A “no” vote is a vote to keep Gavin Newsom as governor.

Here’s the thing. It only takes 1.5 million signatures to submit a petition to recall the governor. There are 39.5 million people in California. We’re voting on this because of less than 4 percent of Californians want it.

This election cost the State $276 million, which I find ironic given that the pro-recall camp thinks Newsom’s use of funds is a reason to recall him. I checked out the Recall Gavin Newsom website to see exactly why they want to recall him. They’ve thoughtfully listed some important issues under a page called What Are Your Whys? (editor’s note: please get an editor). The first issue on their list is the incident of Newsom eating at the French Laundry at the peak of the pandemic and not wearing a mask. Granted, this was a ridiculous error for Newsom to make, but it’s not a good reason to recall him. Also near the top of their list is “extreme government overreach – massive executive orders – acting w/o legislature,” which, considering most of the pro-recall crowd consists of Trump supporters, it’s hard to believe that they actually care about “government overreach;” they only disagree with the use of executive orders for things they don’t want. They object to “mandatory mail-in voting” and “on-going shutdowns.” Voting by mail isn’t mandatory, you can still vote in person. As for the shutdowns, if you can’t understand why we need to stay home to stop the spread of a deadly pandemic, I don’t know what to say at this point.

I’m not going to respond to all the reasons the pro-recall crowd has for wanting to recall Newsom because it seems clear that they’re mad about the pandemic and the actions the state government has taken to keep Californians safe. The L.A. Times has an interesting analysis of who signed the recall petition showing that the counties with the most signers were those who were pro-Trump and had relatively low numbers of coronavirus cases. People in these rural areas think the steps we’re taking to slow the spread of coronavirus are excessive because there aren’t any people out there to get sick!

The real problem if the recall succeeds is the likelihood that we will get a governor who very few Californians voted for. There are so many candidates and the Democratic Party is not recommending a replacement for fear that people will vote yes on the recall because they prefer someone else to Newsom. Meanwhile, Republicans could unite around a particular candidate (something they’re good at!), and we could really have a California governor who thinks there should be no minimum wage and who opposes abortion.

Finally, California is scheduled to vote on a new governor in 2022 anyway. If Californians recall Newsom, the replacement will serve for barely a year. Why not wait instead of spending a bunch of taxpayer money on a vote-by-mail election that the pro-recall crowd fundamentally opposes? Nothing about this makes sense.

Candidates to succeed Gavin Newsom as Governor if he is recalled

My vote: Joel Ventresca

Even if you don’t want to recall Newsom, it’s important to pick someone to be the governor if the recall passes. This is your only chance to vote on a replacement governor who will serve until we vote for a new one in 2022. If you vote no on the recall, you still need to pick a governor candidate in case the recall passes!

Why Joel Ventresca?

Joel Ventresca is my pick because he has a clear platform. He has experience managing large organizations and has run for office before in San Francisco. Ventresca supports raising the minimum wage to $16 an hour, ending mass incarceration, stopping fracking and oil drilling, and making elections publicly funded. This is all really great stuff that would normally not make it onto a California gubernatorial candidate’s platform, but we’re living in chaotic times and some very progressive agendas are on the ballot.

Why Are the Candidates So Weird?

There are 46 candidates on the ballot and none of them are prominent democrats (Newsom has discouraged Democrats from running for fear of incentivizing the recall like Democrats did in 2003). I read about each of the Democratic/no party preference/other party candidates. I dismissed any Republicans outright because, if you’re still a republican after four years of Trump, there’s no way I want you governing. I have also dismissed Libertarians because I find libertarianism selfish.

Before I go into some details, please enjoy this collage of the nuttiest candidate statements in the voter guide.

a collage of 7 screenshots of gubernatorial candidate names andn statements. Each have a weird photo or weird statement (or both) such as simply "Love U," Search YouTube" or "Can you dig it?" for three of the candidates.
a crowded field of weirdos

After laughing about these statements, I learned from John Drake’s twitter that it costs $25 per word when printing a statement in the Voter Information Guide. This sounded too ridiculous to make up, but I wanted to verify it. On page three of the Candidate Statement Guidelines Gubernatorial Replacement Candidates, there it is.

Text from a PDF reads "Payment for candidate statement: The fee for a candidate statement to be included in the state Voter Information Guide for the California Gubernatorial Recall Election is $25.00 per word, not to exceed $6,250.00 (250 words).
And we thought the candidates were just being weird!

This means the candidates with the longest statements have the most money to throw around! Some of these shorter statements seem to be strategic efforts to get attention without spending a lot of money, which makes a lot more sense. This puts the candidates’ statements in a new light.

What about the Rest of the Candidates?

If you don’t like Ventresca, my second choice is Dan Kapelovitz (yes, the “can you dig it?” guy). Kapelvitz’s picture and statement make you think he’s some kind of Vermin Supreme knock-off, but if you look at his website, he’s actually one of the better candidates in the bunch. He’s a criminal defense attorney who also works in animal rights. He supports a green new deal, Medicare for all, universal basic income, and stopping ICE. From a policy perspective, I think he would be an good governor.

Here are my opinions about everyone else. Note that you can read all of the candidate’s statements in the Official Voter Information Guide.

  • Angelyne (no party preference): Look, Angelyne is clearly a sex worker trying to drum up some business, and I respect that, but I don’t want her to be governor. Although this statement from her website does make her a tempting choice: “By sheer virtue of Angelyne being governor, all citizens will rise to their higher self.” Perhaps we can find another path to our higher selves.
  • Holly L. Baade (democratic): The policies are all things I agree with but the tone is kind of an “I don’t see color,” white-woman feminism and I don’t want that as the governor.
  • Heather Collins (green): She offers no links to websites or other information. All we know is what’s in her statement, “Green Party. Immigrant Small Business Owner,” which is not enough to make me want her for governor.
  • John R. Drake (democratic): Drake looks not a day over 20, which doesn’t inherently disqualify him but it is an uphill battle for him to show us why he’s a good choice to govern one of the world’s largest economies. That said, his policies seem good and I’m sure we could do worse. I also have to thank him for pointing out on twitter that candidates have to pay by the word for their statements. I hope he runs for a local office after this.
  • James G. Hanink (no qualified party preference): Hanink’s website says that his party (the non-qualified party preference listed is actually the American Solidarity Party of California) “is working for the overturn of Roe v Wade.” No. Fuck you.
  • Patrick Kilpatrick (democratic): His website says he’s an advocate for “pro-business” policies and one of his top issues is returning film and media production to the state, which is a weird thing to focus on. I think politics are already pro-business enough.
  • Michael Loebs (no qualified party preference): Loebs’ unqualified party is the California National Party, which was founded in 2015. He has a lot of good policies like supporting universal basic income and Medicare for all, but I don’t think he provides enough detail for me to really understand what he wants to do as governor. That said, I don’t think he’s a bad choice.
  • Denis Lucey (no party preference): His statement is extremely ridiculous to me and gives me a “that happened” vibe. This is a candidate who can’t be bothered to make a website.
  • Jeremiah “Jeremy” Marciniak (no party preference): The link Marciniak provides in his bio is to a facebook page that doesn’t say anything. So, no, I will not vote for him.
  • Jacqueline McGowan (democratic): Her whole platform is about cannabis and yet I see nothing here about the most important legal-weed issue: releasing people with low-level weed convictions from prison.
  • Adam Papagan (no party preference): Papagan says he’s running to “demystify the political process by sharing every step of the way what it takes to be a candidate,” which is a really cool and important project. However, I won’t be voting for him.
  • Dennis Richter (no party preference): Although I am down with the socialist cause, Richter’s website is just a link to a socialist magazine called The Militant. I’m not interested in someone who won’t tell me their own opinions and can’t be bothered to make a website.
  • Brandon M. Ross (democratic): I don’t like this Ross’ statement. It’s his life story about his family and education and being a cosmetic surgeon followed by a tragic downfall because of doing drugs. He describes himself as a “moderate” democrat who has made a “comeback,” both things I’m not interested in.
  • Daniel Watts (democratic): Watt’s website only talks about his policies on affordable college and student’s free speech rights. I’m with him on the affordable education but I don’t like that he doesn’t discuss any other issues. Also I’m suspicious of the “free speech” discussion because most people who go on about being pro-free speech mean that they’re mad that people called them an asshole.

Well, that was fun! If you found this helpful, please share it with your friends. I will be sharing a Spanish-language version of this guide in the next week.