Judge’s tentative ruling allows Newsom to brand recall election as ‘Republican’ in state’s voter guide

California
In this July 26, 2021, file photo, Gov. Gavin Newsom appears at a news conference in Oakland. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

In this July 26, 2021, file photo, Gov. Gavin Newsom appears at a news conference in Oakland. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

A judge indicated Wednesday she is likely to allow California Gov. Gavin Newsom to refer to the recall against him as a Republican effort in the state’s official voter guide.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Laurie M. Earl said she will issue a final ruling in the lawsuit brought by recall supporters by Thursday. It seeks to block Newsom, a Democrat, from calling the effort a “Republican recall” a “Republican power grab” or an abuse of the state’s recall laws in the voter guide, which all registered voters will receive this month. Earl sided with Newsom in her tentative ruling but heard from both sides Wednesday afternoon.

If her tentative ruling stands, it will mark a win for Newsom, who has sought to brand the recall as a power grab driven by Republican extremists in an effort to motivate Democrats to vote. In television ads, he has linked the recall to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and efforts in Republican-led states to overturn results from the 2020 presidential election. The recall was placed on the ballot through a legal process.

Newsom and Orrin Heatlie, one of the activists who filed the suit, were each allowed to write 500- word arguments in support of and against the recall for the guide. Voters will start receiving ballots in the mail in mid-August; the last day to vote is Sept. 14.

Earl wrote that Heatlie’s lawsuit failed to prove that Newsom’s branding of the effort as Republican was outright false or objectively untrue, rather than typical comments expected in political debate. The lawsuit argued the recall was falsely labeled Republican because nearly half of the 46 candidates vying to replace Newsom are from other parties. Heatlie’s lawsuit also provided declarations from five people who signed the petition who say they are not Republicans.

“The Court has no doubt that not all recall supporters are Republicans,” Earl wrote. “But the challenged arguments do not state or imply that they are.”

Newsom’s statements in the voter guide include labeling the recall “an attempt by national Republicans and Trump supporters to force an election and grab power in California” and says the recall backers are “abusing our recall laws in order to gain power and advance their partisan agenda.”

Eric Early, the lawyer for Heatlie and a former GOP candidate for state attorney general, argued it’s factually wrong to say the effort abuses the state’s recall laws.

“That the recall election was certified in the first place by the Secretary of State’s office is evidence that there was no abuse of the recall laws,” he said.

Newsom’s lawyers, meanwhile, said the evidence shows that the recall’s supporters and donors are primarily Republicans.

Newsom lost an earlier court case to get his party affiliation as Democratic next to his name on the ballot. His campaign had failed to file the paperwork in time. But he refers to himself as the Democratic governor in his voter guide argument.

If more than half of voters say “yes” to recalling Newsom, he will be forced to leave office more than a year before his first term ends. Then, the replacement candidate with the highest number of votes would become governor.

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