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Opinion: Recall fever: More than just a bear and a TV star

“All politics is loco,” the New York Times headlined during California’s 2003 recall campaign.

That never looked more true than in mid-May, when gubernatorial recall replacement candidate John Cox campaigned with a Kodiak bear to demonstrate his “beastly” qualities, then complained loudly because the bear got more attention than he did.

Or when reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, running as a “compassionate” right-winger, griped that seeing too many homeless drove a fellow airplane-owning neighbor at a small airport to move his plane out of state.

But there’s more than mere strangeness to the recall fever that’s swept much of California since it became plain that Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a bid to dump him.

Sure, Cox and his rented bear pulled a successful publicity stunt, his claims about Newsom errors and how Cox can fix them drawing far more attention than such a Harold Stassen-like repeat candidate could get on his own.

And yes, Jenner, a transgender TV reality star who won the Olympic decathlon in her former gender, drew plenty of ink with several TV appearances and a gauzy commercial.

Plus, the roll-call of candidates to replace Newsom will apparently include at least one or two porn stars, just like the list did during the 2003 recall of ex-Gov. Gray Davis that made a “governator” out of movie muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There has also been some game-playing with facts. One example: Republican candidates Cox and Kevin Faulconer both excoriated Newsom in late April for his alleged “release” of 76,000 felons — including violent ones — from California prisons. But none had been released early at the time those claims were made. Instead, the state Department of Corrections expanded a good behavior program to make 76,000 prisoners eligible for slightly sooner than normal releases.

But no one had been set loose when the candidates complained, inmates still needing to demonstrate good behavior and finish rehabilitation programs before getting lowered sentences. The prison system said it will be months, maybe years, before even one felon is released early.

Yet, recall fever involves more than looney tunes. Unlike the last attempt to unseat an elected governor, this one is spurring other major recall attempts around the state.

Perhaps the two most significant are in Los Angeles County. Both are still gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot.

One effort targets Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, a vocal advocate for the homeless. Bonin has pushed his city to place temporary housing centers in many areas, spurring outcries in several locales.

In the Venice portion of his district, vocal homeowners and apartment dwellers objected loudly when temporary supportive housing arrived in their midst. Some also appealed to city boards to prevent conversion of a Ramada Inn on a busy boulevard to temporary housing.

The appeal failed.

At the same time, a local council in the affluent Pacific Palisades, also in Bonin’s district, opposed putting a tent village in a beach parking lot down a steep hill from the main part of the area.

If Bonin should be recalled, there could be major consequences all around California. This would warn other local officials that okaying new quarters for the homeless in almost any residential or commercial location might lead to their political demise.

Another significant recall-in-progress hits at Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, who ran successfully last year promising to ease criminal sentencing and eliminate cash bail. Some Gascon critics claim he won mainly because the husband of former D.A. Jackie Lacey was arrested on firearm charges after pointing a gun at unruly demonstrators outside the couple’s home. Lacey also took heat for allegedly being soft on police violence.

Critics say Gascon went far beyond his campaign promises in ordering his many hundreds of deputies not to seek death penalties. He also told deputies not to try for sentencing enhancements for most repeat offenders.

Should Gascon be recalled and removed, it would carry implications for the 2022 election bid of appointed state Attorney General Rob Bonta, who shares many Gascon beliefs, and for other ultra-liberal D.A.s.

All of which means recall fever may have strong meaning for many others besides Newsom and the dozens who will try to replace him.

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Email Thomas Elias at His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit


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