Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder is suing over a decision by California election officials to block him from running in the September recall election that could oust Gov. Gavin Newsom, saying he’s the target of political “shenanigans” by Democrats.
The Republican said in a statement late Monday that he filed all the necessary paperwork to qualify for a slot on the ballot, including over 300 pages of tax returns that are required to become a candidate. But the secretary of state’s office did not include Elder on a preliminary list of 41 candidates last weekend, saying he filed incomplete information on those returns.
Elder’s campaign said he sued Monday, seeking an order from a court in Sacramento that would require Secretary of State Shirley Weber to list Elder as a candidate on the final certified list of candidates, scheduled to be issued Wednesday.
“We’ve complied with everything the secretary of state has required of us,” said Elder, a popular voice on the political right whose show is nationally syndicated. “The politicians in Sacramento know I’m the only candidate who can beat Gavin Newsom. They are afraid, and they are using whatever shenanigans they can to try to trip me up. It won’t work.”
“Frankly, this action by the secretary of state is not simply unfair and absurd but a dangerous and unconstitutional precedent,” said Elder, who also is an attorney.
Meanwhile, the secretary of state’s office on Tuesday added another name to the list, making it 42 replacement candidates in the Sept. 14 contest. It wasn’t immediately clear why Democrat Armando “Mando” Perez-Serrato was a late addition.
If Elder fails to make the ballot, it would be a setback for recall organizers who hoped for a large field of prominent candidates to attract voters. When Elder announced his candidacy last week, he immediately became one of the most recognized Republicans in the race, given his years on talk radio and frequent appearances on Fox News.
In a statement, Weber’s office said the agency applies the same criteria to each candidate that seeks elected office.
The list of candidates issued “did not include Mr. Elder and others that failed to comply with those requirements. This is the first election where the gubernatorial candidate tax-disclosure law has been applied.”
Elder is facing a narrow window of time for the court to make a change. With the election less than two months away, election officials already are arranging for ballots to be printed. Mail-in ballots go out next month.
Other Republicans who qualified to run include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; reality TV personality and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner; businessman John Cox, who was defeated by Newsom in 2018; and state lawmaker Kevin Kiley.
Elder’s campaign argued that under state law, Weber has the authority, if not the duty, to “fix” any redaction errors for the public. The campaign said Weber’s office has not informed Elder of its specific objections to the filing of his tax returns and added that Weber was “effectively engaging in voter suppression” by denying voters the ability to choose Elder.
The campaign also said Weber’s decision violates the equal protection clause of the California Constitution because Newsom did not have to comply with the same tax return disclosures.
“I am waging a legal battle to run as the candidate for Californians who are tired of the partisanship and entrenched interests of Sacramento. I fully expect to be on the final certified list of candidates,” Elder said.
Voters will be sent a ballot with two questions: Should Newsom be recalled? And who should replace him? If more than half of voters say “yes” to the first question, then whoever on the list of potential replacements gets the most votes is the new governor of the nation’s most populous state. With numerous candidates and no clear front-runner, it’s possible that someone could win with less than 25% of the votes.
The push to oust the first-term, Democratic governor is largely rooted in frustration with school and business closures during the coronavirus pandemic that upended daily life for millions of Californians.
In the lawsuit, Elder raises the issue of whether the requirement for candidates to release their previous five years of taxes is legally valid. He points out the 2019 law on which it’s based applies to a “primary” election, but the secretary of state “unilaterally” imposed it on a recall election.
A statement from the secretary of state said the agency adopted the same approach as was used in the state’s 2003 recall election, when the basic requirements for replacement candidate qualifications were based on those for primary elections.
“Neither the California Constitution nor the (state) elections code provide specific replacement candidate qualifications and requirements for gubernatorial recall elections,” the agency said.