A simple sign made the point at June 24 recall kickoff rally in San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

Almost halfway to a November deadline, proponents of the drive to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom say they have a quarter-million signatures — well short of the nearly 1.5 million needed to call an election.

Orrin Heatlie of Folsom, a retired Yolo County Sheriff’s sergeant, leads a third Newsom recall effort — after failed drives by Erin Cruz of Palm Springs and Dr. James Veltmeyer of La Jolla.

But Heatlie — whose 160-day drive had a boisterous San Diego kickoff rally two months ago — says he’s learned from earlier failures.

“My team and I literally … were involved with those efforts, but only as a training mission to learn everything we could and to take those learning points and bring them forward and apply what we’ve learned to this recall, including the [petition] form itself,” he said in a recent phone interview.

Heatlie is counting on Griffiths Olson Co., a Republican-aligned firm also known as GoCo Consulting, to oversee petition circulation efforts and verify signatures of registered voters. In a video posted this week, senior VP Lane Koch calls GoCo “brand ambassadors for our clients.”

GoCo says on its website that “we have successfully qualified dozens of initiatives and referenda. In fact, we have never failed to qualify a measure.” But it wasn’t clear how many recall drives it’s taken part in.

(Paul Olson, GoCo chief financial officer, on Friday declined to respond to questions, saying: “I’m just not at liberty to … discuss the details.”)

But public records confirm that GoCo has a high profile in Republican races. In the 2018 election cycle, for example, Rep. Devin Nunes of the San Joaquin Valley paid GoCo $248,580 to help get re-elected.

The Sacramento Bee reported in 2015 that GoCo Consultants “netted about $2 million in 2013-14, among the most in the state.”

According to the latest report on the Secretary of State’s website, only 56,495 recall signatures have been reported by the state’s 58 counties. (But 15 counties reported no signatures.)

Recall leader Heatlie has an explanation.

“It’s not as suspicious as you might think,” he said. “Because of the COVID shutdown, a lot of the registrars offices are closed to the public, and several of them refused to open their doors to receive petitions.”

He said other registrars have “refused to give us some receipts and there’s been others that just want us to make an appointment, and it’s really inconvenient for our team members.”

In any case, he’ll submit “all of our forms in bulk.” On Friday, 88 days remained until the submission deadline of Nov. 17.

Heatlie boasts a “vast statewide volunteer network” that uses Facebook for internal communications.

“There’s 72 groups,” he said. “We have over 110,000 members. we have 135 administrators — 17 regional managers in three operations chiefs.”

And he says groups targeting Chinese, Vietnamese and Hispanic voters have launched.

“We’re also reaching out to the LGBTQ community, who are extremely misrepresented,” he told Times of San Diego. “They haven’t had a voice in this movement or other Republican movements in the past. But there is an upwelling of support within their community coming to help us and other Republican causes.”

But don’t consider the recall a partisan project, he says.

“Mind you, this is not a Republican movement,” Heatlie said. “The Recall Gavin team is nonpartisan. It’s not Republican one way or another or any other party. But the people in the LGBTQ community that are coming to help us, and giving us their support, are Republicans and they are Trump supporters. Which is an interesting dynamic.”

According to the latest figures, San Diego County has 508,000 registered Republican voters — in a county of 3.34 million residents. But as of Aug. 10, the county has reported receiving only 1,681 recall signatures.

Riverside County reports the most — 10,082 signatures — followed by Orange County (6,757), Los Angeles County (4,997), Tulare County (4,685) and Fresno County (4,012).

Heatlie doesn’t appear worried.

He says GoCo will verify signatures and contact people whose autographs may not count.

“If somebody puts down a P.O. Box, they’ll try and contact them through the email process or send them a physical letter to notify them that they need to make a correction on their signature,” Heatlie says.

“Why is that important? Because the registrars office, the Secretary of State — they don’t ever count every signature, they don’t count every vote when we have an election,” he said.

Heatlie contends that county elections officials don’t eyeball every signature.

“They don’t have the resources to do that. If we reach 110% of the signatures given their validation rate and percentages … then they stop counting,” he says. “They stop verifying. And it automatically goes to ballot.”

Not so, says Sam Mahood, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office.

“For recalls, county elections officials verify every signature that is turned into them,” Mahood said Friday via email. “I believe the person you spoke with is confusing this with the verification process for statewide ballot measures (which begins with a random sampling and projection of valid signatures).”

Mahood cited the official recall guide, which says — regarding statewide officer recalls — “Once the signatures reported by county elections officials equals at least 10 percent of the total signatures required (about 150,000), the county elections official has thirty business days to verify all signatures submitted during that reporting period, and must certify the results and submit a blank copy of the petition to the Secretary of State.”

It’s only recall drives against local officials that give county brass the option of using a “random sampling signature verification technique” — where more than 500 signatures are submitted.

With the exception of hiring several consultants, Heatlie says he has no paid staff or signature-collectors.

“But there are people who are circulating other petitions,” he says. “They’re using the recall as a lead-in because they’re tapping into peoples’ frustrations to draw them into their tables. They sign the recall petitions, but then they also sign the other things that they have on their tables. That’s how they’re getting paid.”

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