A legislative committee hearing became chaotic at times Monday morning, as backers of the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom stood outside the California Capitol demanding entry to oppose a bill dealing with recall petitioners.
“This is nonsense! You’ve got 15 people outside trying to come into the building, trying to get a line. They don’t know how to comment and you could just let us in the door. Let us in,” one woman, who did not give her name, shouted through the phone during public comment. Access to the building has been limited due to COVID-19 precautions.
The woman was calling — and standing outside the capitol — to oppose Senate Bill 663, a measure that would allow the target of a recall effort to access information about voters who signed a petition to remove them from office.
It’s being pushed by State Sen. Josh Newman (D–Fullerton), who was recalled from his Southern California Senate seat in 2018 over his vote to increase the gasoline tax, though he won the seat back in the 2020 election.
Newman says SB 663 would allow the target of a recall to access the information in order to contact petition signers and ensure they were not misled or lied to when they added their name to a recall petition. They could also help a signatory remove their name from a recall petition, if asked.
It would also make it a misdemeanor for recall targets — or their campaigns — to share or misuse the personal information.
The bill cleared the Senate Elections Committee Monday despite dozens of people calling in and standing outside the capitol to oppose it. If approved by the full legislature, it would not take effect until next year and would not have any bearing on the current effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
But backers of the Newsom recall say it would dissuade people from adding their names to petitions if the politician they are trying to remove could later access a signer’s personal information.
“I gathered signatures, I talked to people out every day who were afraid to participate … because they were afraid their personal, private information would be disclosed” to Newsom, said Orrin Heatlie, the lead proponent of the effort to oust the governor. “They were afraid of retaliation and retribution.”
Heatlie asked Newman to withdraw the measure.
“This is a dangerous and reckless bill that would give the target of a recall access to all of that data, all of that personal info and it would stifle the constitutional process that people are guaranteed,” he said.
Newman pushed back on the idea that petition signers should expect complete anonymity.
“The ballot in America is secret. That is kind of a hallowed, sacred tradition. But participation in politics is not intended to be secret or anonymous,” Newman said. “Politics is inherently public, and that’s not a bad thing.”
Though the Orange County Democrat acknowledged organizers of the effort to recall Newsom “have been nothing if not honest,” he argued the measure is necessary to “create a deterrent structure, so that in the event of a recall effort, there is an incentive to act honorably.”
The measure would only apply to elected officials representing more than 50,000 voters, effectively exempting officials in smaller towns or counties from accessing signatory information if they are the subject of a recall.
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