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Regional Interests

It’s Official: 41 Candidates Vie to Replace Newsom

Update 7:18 p.m.: This article has been updated to clarify the requirements for talk show host Larry Elder to be placed on the list of certified candidates for governor.

California’s top election official has released the list of candidates who filed to run for governor in the September recall election.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber says a total of 41 people filed the paperwork needed to run for governor by the Friday afternoon deadline — that’s far fewer than the 135 who ran in 2003, when Governor Gray Davis was recalled and replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

No prominent Democrats are running, but among the top Republicans are former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, businessman John Cox, former Congressman Doug Ose and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner.

Political consultants to conservative talk show host Larry Elder said he filed the papers, but his name did not appear on the list. None of the candidates will become governor unless a majority of voters decide to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom in September.

Elder, a Republican and regular guest on Fox News, announced his candidacy July 12, bringing a well-known voice on the political right to a Republican field trying to oust Newsom.

But he wasn’t on the list released by the Secretary of State of candidates who met the requirements to be placed on the Sept. 14 ballot.

“Calm down, that list was not certified, I fully expect to be on the ballot when the certified list comes out,” Elder said in a pre-recorded video statement on Twitter.

While Elder’s campaign team expects him to be on the final list of certified candidates, the Secretary of State’s office indicated it would take a court order to overturn Weber’s determination that Elder failed to submit all of the required paperwork related to his personal income tax filings.

 

And the smaller-than-expected number of Republican candidates could be a setback for recall supporters who had hoped for a large, prominent field to attract voters for the first, crucial question: Should Newsom be recalled, yes or no? If that question fails, the recall is over and Newsom remains in office, with the potential replacement candidates on the second ballot rendered irrelevant.

If Newsom is recalled, 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 the winner might get less than 25% of the votes.

The recall date was set earlier this month after Republican organizers easily cleared the required 1.5 million petition signatures needed to place the proposal on the ballot. The push to oust Newsom is largely rooted in frustration with long-running school and business closures during the pandemic that overturned daily life for millions of Californians.

Some of the leading Republican candidates have been campaigning for months but no Democrat with political stature decided to run, giving Newsom what amounted to an important, incremental victory. In 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was elected after voters recalled Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Many believe Davis was damaged when a fellow Democrat, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, entered the race.

But that could also backfire. Polls have shown Newsom would beat back the recall. But should he lose in an upset, there would be no established Democrat among replacement candidates, potentially opening the way for a Republican to take the seat.

While there are some notable personalities, this year’s list lacks the panache of contenders in the state’s circus-like 2003 recall. Among the 135 names on the ballot that year were former child star Gary Coleman, pornographer Larry Flynt, former baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and political pundit Ariana Huffington, who dropped out shortly before the election.

Polls have shown many voters are ignoring this year’s contest, and there were no new candidates who emerged Saturday who appeared to have the potential to reorder the trajectory of the race.

When it comes to requirements to run, the bar is relatively low. A candidate must be a citizen, registered or qualified to vote in California and not be convicted of felony bribery or theft of public money. Candidates must pay a filing fee of about $4,200, and submit at least 65 valid nomination signatures with their declaration of candidacy. They must also file copies of federal tax returns for the previous five years.

Former San Diego Mayor and republican candidate for California Governor Kevin Faulconer speaks during a news conference in front of Abraham Lincoln High School on February 17, 2021 in San Francisco, California. Kevin Faulconer held a news conference in front of a San Francisco high school to demand that California Gov. Gavin Newsom reopen schools in the state. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A certified list — the one voters will see — will be released Wednesday and changes are possible. According to the secretary of state’s office, candidates who have filed the required paperwork include:

Kevin Paffrath, 29, is a YouTuber who gives financial advice to his 1.7 million subscribers. The Democrat says his lack of “political baggage” is a good thing. Anyone who wins the recall election would be governor for just over a year before the next election, which Paffrath likened to a trial run. His proposals include building underground tunnels for new roadways and cutting income taxes. The multimillionaire denies his run for office is a ploy to generate more publicity.

Jeff Hewitt, 68, is a Riverside County supervisor. He wrote in The Orange County Register that he was entering the race because “this state no longer accommodates dreams, fosters ideas or solves problems.” He argues the state needs a new approach and, as a Libertarian, he is positioned to work with Democrats and Republicans.

Joel Ventresca, 69, is a Democrat though says he’s further to the left than Newsom and even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on some issues. “I consider Newsom a corporate, establishment, insider Democrat,” he says. Ventresca’s main campaign platform is providing free health care and education “cradle to grave” for everyone in California. He retired in 2018 from the San Francisco International Airport, where he held multiple roles and ran for mayor of San Francisco in 2019. He got 7% of the vote.

Sam Gallucci, 60, a Republican, is a former technology executive who is senior pastor at Embrace! Church in Oxnard, California. He also runs services that provide assistance for at-risk women and children and migrants. In his tech career, he rose through the corporate ranks to become an executive vice president and general manager for software maker PeopleSoft. Oracle acquired the company for $10.3 billion in 2004. He says “the soul of our state has been lost.”

Caitlyn Jenner, 71, is a lifelong Republican trying to parlay her celebrity into a surprise win. She won the men’s decathlon gold medal at the 1976 Olympics, married into the Kardashian family and with them became reality TV stars, and then came out as a transgender woman in 2015. She has described herself as a fiscal conservative who is liberal on social issues. But she’s proven gaffe-prone in interviews and a sprinkle of polling has suggested she’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger, who used the power of his celebrity to become California governor in a 2003 recall election.

John Cox, 66, was the Republican nominee for governor in 2018 and lost to Newsom in a landslide. This time around the multimillionaire businessman has displayed a showman’s instincts, campaigning at one point with a Kodiak bear to show he wants to make “beastly” changes to California. He’s long sought public office. Starting in 2000, Cox ran for the U.S. House and twice for the U.S. Senate in his old home state of Illinois, but fell short in crowded Republican primaries. He also ran a largely unnoticed campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

Doug Ose, 66, is a multimillionaire businessman and former Republican congressman who represented a Sacramento-area district from 1999 to 2005. Ose says he’s ready to work across party lines to reopen schools and get the economy back at full strength. He calls Sacramento broken, pointing to the homeless crisis, climbing gas taxes and increasing crime rates. He’s been calling for regional debates. “Californians are tired of having a governor whose operating themes are hypocrisy, self-interest, half truths and mediocrity,” Ose says. He briefly ran for governor in 2018.

Jacqueline McGowan, 46, a Democrat, is a former stockbroker turned cannabis policy reform advocate. She’s running to bring attention to what she calls a crisis in the legal cannabis market, which has struggled to get on its feet amid heavy regulation and taxes while facing stiff competition from the thriving underground market. Legal marijuana is not available in many parts of the state. She says the state has largely turned its back on the industry’s troubles. She would slash pot taxes and push communities that have not set up local markets to open the door for legal sales.

Kevin Faulconer, 54, is a Republican who was twice elected mayor of Democratic-leaning San Diego and left office last year. He was an early entrant in the recall race and has long been seen as a potential statewide candidate, given his centrist credentials in strongly Democratic California. He’s presented himself as a problem-solver who can work across the political aisle and has touted his work keeping homeless encampments off streets while they spread unchecked in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Steve Chavez Lodge, 62, is a retired homicide detective and small business owner. He gained notoriety when he got engaged to reality TV personality Vicki Gunvalson, who appeared on the “Real Housewives of Orange County” for 15 years. The Republican says “California is completely broken” and is promising to “get government out of our lives … and out of our wallets.” He also has served on local government commissions.

Kevin Kiley, 36, is a Republican state assemblyman from the Sacramento area who emerged as a favorite among GOP volunteers who gathered petition signatures for the recall. He built a reputation as a strong conservative and one of Newsom’s most vocal critics, and is seen as a rising personality in the California GOP.

KQED Politics Editor Scott Shafer and Associated Press reporters Michael R. Blood and Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report. 

Copyright 2021 KQED