SAN LEANDRO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 08:  California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a No on the Recall campaign event with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris at IBEW-NECA Joint Apprenticeship Training Center on September 08, 2021 in San Leandro, California. With six days to go until the California recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom was joined by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris as he continues to campaign throughout the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Still Gov. Gavin Newsom.

As someone who spent 15.5 hours canvassing door to door to defeat the recall against California Gov. Gavin Newsom, I’ve got my happy face on tonight. Not least because it wasn’t a squeaker but showed strong support for the governor and achieved an honest to goodness trouncing of a specimen of one our nation’s plagues: right-wing talk radio hosts, the showmen of America’s political megachurches. 

Over the next few days, we’ll be getting post-mortems on the recall and speculation about what the outcome may or may not mean for Democratic prospects in the rest of the nation replete with all the tedious warnings to the hopeful among us about how California is not Alabama. 

But before that battle over future California-informed tactics gets underway this week, let me briefly put in my 2 cents for a top legislative priority: Fix the damn provision of the state constitution that establishes how recalled governors are replaced. A more unfair system is hard to imagine, with a very high potential for a replacement candidate to win the governorship with 20% or even less of the vote. There are options for an easy fix. Easy technically, but politically more difficult because it requires a resolution by two-thirds of the legislature and a confirmation by the voters. But doable. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think having a recall option is a good thing. But not if it’s based on a bizarre set-up in which undemocratic outcomes are so possible. 

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have recall provisions on the books, many dating from the Progressive Era of the early 1900s when civic reformers were eager to attack corruption. But only California and Colorado set their recalls up in such a way that an incumbent can lose the governorship to someone who gets far fewer votes than the number of people who said “No” on the recall. 

In California, the lieutenant governor takes over when the governor is temporarily incapacitated, out of the state, being impeached, or if he or she dies. So why not when a governor is recalled? This makes clear ahead of time to voters who it will be that replaces a recalled governor, instead of leaving it up to a system in which a person can take over the office even though 80% of the voters didn’t cast ballots for them.

Another option besides putting the lieutenant governor in charge after a successful recall, and one already used in several other states, is holding a special election in which the incumbent runs against a list of candidates who qualify for the ballot, usually via gathering voter signatures. That provides a more level playing field.

A good case can also be made for increasing the percentage of votes required to put a recall on the ballot in the first place. 

Whatever is done, can we please not wait this time, as was done when similar suggestions were made in 2003 after Gray Davis was ousted and Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor?