Orrin Heatlie lives in Yolo County, where UC Davis helped account for its rejecting the recall 69% to 31%.
Orrin Heatlie lives in Yolo County, where Dem-heavy UC Davis helped account for its rejecting the recall 69% to 31%. Photo by Chris Stone

Orrin Heatlie has a rebranded website, 300,000 email addresses and a new mission for the state GOP: Quit bashing your head against a rock in Sacramento.

Bypass the heavily Democratic middleman, says the lead proponent of the failed recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“We don’t need the legislators to build dams for us or improve our infrastructure,” said Heatlie, a retired Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant. “We can do that ourselves.”

Via rebuildcalifornia.com — with only a placekeeper image so far — Heatlie and allies including recall co-founder Mike Netter plan to “champion” five pillars of policy change via ballot initiatives.

He says the state Legislature has “turned a deaf ear and blind eye” to water needs, school choice, crime, homelessness and other issues.

“I really wouldn’t consider running for an office because I think that I can achieve our objectives through just working with the people of California,” he told Times of San Diego in a third-floor hallway interview at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

“I’m only one vote,” he said amid the state GOP’s fall convention. “When I work with the people through Rebuild California, I’m many votes. And we bring the power of the people.”

One concrete idea: a constitutional amendment requiring Sacramento to allocate 2% of the state’s budget to improve infrastructure and build desalination plants and water reservoirs. In 2021-22, that would amount to $3.92 billion.

Heatlie applies heat to GOP

But Orrin Edward Heatlie didn’t come hat in hand. He journeyed to San Diego partly to hand the GOP its head.

“The governor … deemed this the great Republican takeover, but I call it the great Republican rollover,” Heatlie said (first to Politico). “This party, the California GOP, in large [part] sat it out.”

The 52-year-old Folsom resident said the GOP didn’t generate the energy needed to get its base to the polls or mailboxes.

“Six million people [in California] voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Just 4 million voted for the yes vote for this recall,” he said. “Where were those 2 million other people, and why didn’t they get to the ballot box? And that’s just the Republicans.”

Orrin Heatlie says he once sent $50 to a rival recall fundraiser to see where it went.
Orrin Heatlie says he once sent $50 to a rival recall fundraiser to see where it went. Photo by Chris Stone

He said perhaps 3 million Republicans failed to cast ballots.

“So why did that happen?” Heatlie said. “That’s why I’m here to talk to these folks about.”

He said he heard state GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson basically say: “We didn’t do our job to motivate them and get them out.”

“I didn’t see one TV ad that was done on [the recall’s] behalf,” Heatlie said.

Larry Elder and John Cox plastered the airwaves, he noted, with the 2018 gubernatorial loser from Rancho Santa Fe supposedly putting $7 million of his own money into his 2021 campaign.

Heatlie said Cox pledged $100,000 to the yes-on-recall campaign, but gave only half that amount.

And Heatlie aimed fire at Elder’s role in hobbling the recall.

Refusing to debate, Elder “wouldn’t answer to some of the questions that people had concerns over,” Heatlie said.

Heatlie contrasted radio host Elder with 36-year-old Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, his preferred governor candidate for 2022 and fifth in Sept. 14 voting with 3.4% of the vote.

He depicted Kiley as a middle-of-the-road lawmaker willing to work with both sides of the aisle.

When Kiley was asked who he’d replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein with if she were to resign, “his answer was that he wouldn’t replace her — that he would allow that to go vacant,” Heatlie said. “And let the voters replace her during the next election, which is just months away.”

Asked the same question, Elder “came down on a hard partisan line making it very clear that he would replace her with a Republican and that generated fear … and fed into the narrative the governor was already selling.”

Netter’s net assessment of recall

Businessman Netter, a self-professed political neophyte who rallied troops 15 months ago in San Diego, said Elder’s ascent to the top of the polls indicated a vacuum of leadership.

“What does it really tell you? California was basically saying: Anybody.” But that led to Newsom crying “Trump, Trump, Trump. My God he’s going to [fill in the blank],” Netter said.

Recall co-founder Mike Netter says there's too much money in politics.
Recall co-founder Mike Netter says there’s too much money in politics. Photo by Chris Stone

The Covina resident, 64, pushed back against the notion Republicans were the only anti-Newsom voters.

“What the recall allowed people to do was unite across California,” Netter said. “This was about as much a Republican-led recall as the Chinese Communist Party is led by the Soviets. It’s a pile of crap.”

He also challenged the narrative that the recall started because of COVID lockdowns.

“COVID … simply accelerated [perceptions of] how inept the governor, this moron, is,” he said. “He’s not transparent and he’s not accountable. He screwed up with The French Laundry (visit) in November, OK, because he’s an idiot. Plain and simple.”

Netter said 1.7 million recall signatures were collected by volunteers, many organized via Facebook groups. “With verification, we averaged 50 cents a signature” while professional signature-getters, costing $3.5 million, accounted for just 450,000 names. 

“We launched the recall strategically,” he said. “We weren’t just a bunch of idiots. … [We’d] do it during the summer, when people gathered at Dodger games and fairs and shows. So I know the popular attitude is: Sure, the [court-ordered four months] extra time is great. But we already had 500,000 signatures gathered.” 

Rebuild California — an unused domain that once had a $1,000 asking price — is Netter’s baby as well.

“I’ll be blunt. The Republicans are outnumbered,” he said. “The reality is this: We don’t have a balance of power. … Nobody wants homelessness. Nobody wants really high taxes. I’d like not to blow out my car with potholes. And I’d like to make air fairly clean, like my house not to burn down, like consistent power, and I love water.

“You boil down those basic issues, most people want them. We’ve quit talking about those solutions. So I’m not going to wait for the politicians. We’re going to help put things on the ballot [and] let the public decide.”

He said every initiative Democrats or Republicans put on the ballot failed in the last cycle. (Actually two “legislatively referred constitutional amendments” passed in November 2020: Props. 17 and 19.)

So now he’s hoping to mobilize an “army” of Democrats, Republicans and independents to “put changes we need for California on the ballot.”

COVID victim Heatlie offers cure

Several weeks ago, Heatlie made national news with word that he had COVID-19 — the second time in his estimation.

His wife and daughter also had all of the symptoms “before it had become a thing,” he said, saying Saturday that his aches and pains, a little fever and being fatigued were behind him.

Now he’s aiming to cure California.

Heatlie sees potential budget savings by shrinking “the excesses in spending in areas. … We need to audit our different state agencies and find where they’re overspending.”

He said a billion-plus dollars were spent for masks that went out of state instead of at home on California textile firms. He cited the $31 billion EDD fraud: “That equates to 62,000 single-family homes at a cost of a half-million dollars apiece. That puts it in perspective, right?”

A potential ballot proposition would attack homelessness.

“We would champion certain programs and things, trying to raise funds to help with these community programs to re-engage people that are homeless,” he said. “Re-engage them in society and help with programs that are effective in bringing those people back.”

Mike Netter said: "We don't seem to have politicians who are inspiring people to come out."
Mike Netter said: “We don’t seem to have politicians who are inspiring people to come out.” Photo by Chris Stone

He said resentencing under Proposition 47 (called “a bill of goods” sold by then-Attorney General Kamala Harris), cutting prison terms via Proposition 57 and moving state inmates to local jails under AB 109 are the root of California’s homeless problems.

“They went out on the streets,” he said of nonviolent inmates. “So you saw the prison population begin to decline where the homeless population begin to increase.”

This wasn’t Newsom’s fault, he granted, “but this governor increased that problem dramatically by his wholesale release of … about 20,000 prisoners in one fell swoop over this last year.”

Calls change.org ‘corrupt’

Heatlie also considers himself a fraud victim of sorts — smarting over money lost to his cause thanks to rival — or bogus — recall groups.

He called change.org a “corrupt organization” for hosting dozens of Newsom recall petitions, “where people would go online and fill out their personal information, and it would say sign here, and make a donation.”

He said his group found such competing groups had gathered over 700,000 online signatures — “and that was just change.org.” (Heatlie singled out a site titled “Join Travis Allen to Recall Gavin Newsom.” Allen was a GOP also-ran in the 2018 governor’s race.)

He’s unsure how much they raised and whether any of the change.org efforts had established legal recipient committees. “There’s no record of it. They’re running a fraudulent organization, in my opinion.”

(A change.org spokeswoman didn’t respond to Heatlie’s accusations — or answer questions about petitioners’ fundraising. Instead she said the site maintains “strict Community Guidelines and policies to prevent the spread of misinformation, while being careful not to limit our users’ rights to freedom of expression.”)

Heatlie said his complaints filed with the state elections watchdog, the FPPC, “went unanswered,” and with the FBI, “went uninvestigated.”

“There was an interview with FBI Agent Austin,” he said. “I went into the FPPC and sat down with … a female investigator. I don’t have her name. That was during the Erin Cruz (recall) campaign. I know she gave me a report number, but that was two years ago.”

On Monday, the FBI’s Sacramento office said: “Unfortunately, the FBI does not comment on complaints or tips we may receive from the public.” An FPPC spokesman declined immediate comment, saying such information couldn’t be quickly provided.

Questions San Diego recall results

But another Heatlie allegation — involving doubts about San Diego County’s recall vote count — brought a near immediate response.

It came in reply to what Heatlie said about the legitimacy of the state recall election.

Heatlie told Times of San Diego that “concerns” exist.

He said: “One of the indicators we’re looking at closely is the 1% [manual] tally vs. the results from the machines. … And there are certain counties — San Diego is where one of the biggest anomalies are where it’s a dramatic difference between the results from the machines vs. the results from the audit.”

Heatlie alleged that San Diego County’s audit shows a heavy yes vote “where the machines came in as a no.” (With 13,000 ballots left to count — after 1.17 million cast — San Diego County voted against the recall 57% to 43%.)

Cynthia Paes, interim county registrar of voters, said Monday via email: “I can’t speculate what Mr. Heatlie is referring to. As we are finishing up the 1% manual tally, there haven’t been any anomalies that would raise concern about the accuracy and outcome of the count.”

Heatlie also claims 20% of recall-petition signers were Democrats, “and you would think that that percentage would carry over into the general population” of recall voters.

He said the state has “a conservative backbone,” citing Ronald Reagan’s election as governor, regular rejections of new taxes, once making English the official language and approval of Prop. 8 on “the sanctity of marriage.”

“Donald Trump lost big,” he said, “but I think the majority of the vote swung [in] a conservative direction.”

Won’t dismiss fraud or concede it

A month ago, Heatlie told the San Francisco Chronicle that his team named about 240 volunteers to moderate the campaign’s dozens of Facebook groups to weed out “Stop the Steal” misinformation and references to QAnon conspiracies.

(The newspaper still found many posted comments that echoed Trump’s baseless election-rigging claims.)

But Saturday, Heatlie would’t commit to saying the recall result was legitimate.

As of early Sept. 28, 2021, the only thing posted to rebuildcalifornia.com was this homepage image of a brush fire.

Asked if he agreed with candidate Elder’s pre-election prediction of fraud, Heatlie said: “Not right now I don’t. Not until I see some hard evidence that indicates that’s the case. I’m not going to take a stand either way. I’m not going to automatically dismiss it or concede it.”

(“I like to keep an open mind,” he also said. “I’m evidence-based, coming from law enforcement. I like to see the evidence. I don’t look at hyperbole or rumor or anything like that.”)

Heatlie in March torched San Diego radio host Carl DeMaio for not sharing his recall fundraising with the official campaign. But Saturday he said: “Once the campaign became viable and we secured it, [DeMaio] did put a valiant effort toward getting the yes vote and promoting it down here in San Diego.” 

Credits Trump for staying mum

The Elephant in the Room remains the 45th president. How much will love or hatred of Trump influence 2022 California electoral results?

Heatlie called Trump a “dynamic individual” with a “polarizing effect.”

“I’ve always held true to the fact that the recall itself had nothing to do with federal politics,” he said. “And to Donald Trump’s credit, he didn’t come out and support it one way or another. And he stayed out of it.”

On the other hand, President Biden, Vice President Harris, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama came to Newsom’s rescue, which Heatlie decried as “meddling.”

“They’re out of state and out of touch with what the people of California are dealing with here at home,” he said. “They really have no basis for coming here … other than to use their political clout to sway the people’s vote.”

Should Trump take himself out of electoral politics altogether and let Republican candidates across the country rise and fall on their own merits?

“I stay out of that aspect of politics, OK,” Heatlie said. “As long as the Republicans and the conservative California base continue to be willing to die on the hill over … social issues, they’re going to continue to lose membership, their donor base, and they’ll continue to lose races.”

But Heatlie hopes Rebuild California will catch fire.

Besides Facebook, his original campaign had followers on Twitter and Instagram.

How many email addresses has he compiled?

“About 300,000,” he said. “There’s people who have approached us to want to use [the list], but we haven’t sold it or anything. I wouldn’t know what it would be worth.”