KUSI meteorologist Mark Mathis makes fun of Gov. Gavin Newsom "rules for private gatherings" on Friday episode of "Good Morning San Diego."
KUSI meteorologist Mark Mathis makes fun of Gov. Gavin Newsom “rules for private gatherings” on Friday episode of “Good Morning San Diego.” Image via Facebook

Californians seeking to remove Gov. Gavin Newsom got good news Friday when a Sacramento judge extended their deadline to gather recall petition signatures.

As first reported on Facebook, Superior Court Judge James P. Arguelles made a preliminary ruling that pushes back the deadline from Nov. 17 to *March 17, 2021.

When Secretary of State Alex Padilla didn’t seek oral arguments to challenge the group’s deadline request, an 11 a.m. Friday hearing was cancelled and the tentative ruling was made final, said Orrin Heatlie of Folsom.

Preliminary ruling in Newsom recall deadline case.
Preliminary ruling in Newsom recall deadline case was ultimately made final. (PDF)

Heatlie, the lead organizer of the third recall drive in the past year, told Times of San Diego Friday that he hoped to expand his effort to paid petition circulators as a result of the ruling — depending on fundraising efforts.

Padilla’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Given Joe Biden’s 32-point victory over Donald Trump in California presidential voting, does Heatlie see a Newsom recall as the will of the people?

‘Absolutely, 100%,” he said in a phone interview. “We have people coming to our signing tables and they would say: ‘Let’s recall Gov. Newsom and impeach Trump.’ Two totally separate issues. People were unhappy with Trump’s performance in the White House, but they’re really unhappy with how the governor’s performance is affecting their lives here at home.”

Heatlie said lifelong, multigenerational Democrats are among his 5,000 volunteers.

“One lady was so enamored with Gavin Newsom she named her … son Gavin [nine years ago],” he said. “She’s one of our more active volunteers gathering signatures. She’s been so disillusioned by his performance since he got into office.”

His drive still has a goal of 2 million signers — a 500,000-name cushion over the required 1,495,709 registered-voter signatures.

If the recall drive succeeds, the state must hold a special election within months after petitions are certified.

“The lieutenant governor is required to call a recall election to be held not less than 60 days nor more than 80 days from the date of certification of sufficient signatures,” says the state Constitution, unless a statewide election is scheduled within 180 days. (The next California gubernatorial election is Nov. 8, 2022.)

Said Heatlie: “Just because we have a 120-day extension doesn’t mean we have to use the entire stretch. We can finish in three weeks…. Hopefully, we’ll be able to wrap this up in short order.” 

If they can pay professional circulators, he said, “I foresee that racking up relatively quickly. They can bring in 100,000 signatures weekly.”

But the pandemic and other hurdles remain.

“We’ve been run off certain areas,” he said. “The stores don’t want us out in front.”

On Facebook, organizers said: “While we declare victory in this battle, we have not won the war and there is much work that needs to be done.”

Lawyers for Heatlie and his California Patriot Coalition said in an Oct. 16 court brief that the ongoing restrictions imposed by the government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic “severely inhibited” their ability to circulate petitions and gather signatures in support of the recall effort.

Judge Arguelles agreed, saying in a nine-page ruling: “Petitioners’ arguments are persuasive.”

He noted that recall organizers stopped submitting signatures to county election officials in August 2020 — a strategic move involving a paid consultant first checking the signatures of registered voters.

“(That) does not negate a finding that they have proceeded with reasonable diligence,” said Arguelles, named to the bench in 2010 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — elected as the result of the lone successful governor recall drive in state history.

Recall organizers said they had 675,000 signatures in hand and would exceed 1 million by the original Nov. 17 deadline, “but will nevertheless likely fall short of the 1,495,709 signatures needed to initiate a recall election,” said the brief signed by attorney Bradley Benbrook of Sacramento.

Arguelles recently approved deadline extensions for two ballot measure drives — initiatives titled the California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act of 2020 and the California Sports Wagering Regulation and Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act (a tribal-backed that would legalize California sportsbooks at tribal casinos and existing horse racetracks).

The recycling measure got the needed signatures and will be on the November 2022 state ballot. It’s unclear whether the wagering issue will be on the same ballot.

In late October, Padilla rebutted arguments that the COVID pandemic handicapped the recall group’s signature-gathering efforts.

“Petitioners cannot demonstrate that their lack of success in collecting the required number of signatures is because of state-imposed restrictions related to COVID-19 rather than their lack of diligence in raising funds, their unexplained delay in turning in signatures to county elections officials, and their unprecedented choice to rely on all-volunteer effort instead of hiring paid signature gatherers,” wrote Padilla attorney Kevin Calia.

Calia noted that only once in California history (out of 54 tries) has a governor recall drive been successful (ousting Gov. Gray Davis in 2003).

“In the most recent failed attempt to recall Governor Newsom, the proponents collected signatures from September 6, 2019, through February 13, 2020 — a period entirely unaffected by any state restrictions related to COVID-19,” he wrote. “Indeed, the proponents collected fewer than 300,000 valid signatures out of the almost 1.5 million signatures required.”

An earlier recall effort by La Jolla physician James Veltmeyer — also came up well short.

Recall proponents also argue that strict enforcement of the 160-deadline would “pervert the purpose of the recall power by allowing state officials to effectively insulate themselves from removal by passing restrictions that make it impossible for proponents to collect sufficient signatures.”

Padilla’s lawyer pushed back, saying the state has a “strong interest” in avoiding a costly recall election that does not have strong support among the electorate.

“More than 7.7 million Californians voted for Governor Newsom in 2018,” said Calia for Padilla. “Those voters elected the governor to a four-year term and have a strong interest in not having their votes undermined by a minority that could not meet the California Constitution’s requirements for initiating a recall election.”

Meanwhile in San Diego, KUSI weatherman Mark Mathis, wearing royal robe and crown, mocked “King Newsom” and his coronavirus rules Friday morning on “Good Morning San Diego.”

*An earlier version of this report quoted Facebook as saying the new deadline was March 10, 2021.

Updated at 2:50 p.m. Nov. 6, 2020