Gun-rights groups will try to recall California lawmakers

October 26, 2013

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R), center, flanked by Tim Knight, who led the recall movement in Colorado against two state legislators for their support of gun-control laws, and Jennifer Kerns, founder of Free California, announce that they are considering a recall campaign against five Democratic state lawmakers for their support of gun-control bills in California, during a news conference on Thursday in Sacramento. It is patterned on the Colorado recall effort that unseated two legislators, including the state Senate president. Donnelly said legislators who voted for gun-control measures ignored their pledge to support the Constitution. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The strategists who orchestrated recalls of two Democratic state senators in Colorado are bringing their campaign to California, where legislators passed a series of gun-control measures earlier this year.

Jennifer Kerns, a former California Republican Party spokeswoman and the consultant behind the Colorado recalls, said Thursday that her group would begin collecting the signatures necessary to oust several state legislators.

This month, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed several bills that will restrict sales of high-capacity magazines and access to firearms for the mentally ill. But Brown vetoed two bills the National Rifle Association had threatened to take to court.

One bill would have defined some rifles and shotguns as assault weapons; another would have banned semi-automatic rifles. Both measures, introduced by Democrats, passed on party-line votes.

“The Second Amendment, I think, is the new third rail in politics,” Kerns said in an interview. “Because it’s not just a budget vote or a procedural vote, it’s a constitutional right.

“Make no mistake, the gun bills Jerry Brown signed were the strictest in the nation. As of last spring, we thought Colorado had the strictest in the nation. California just surpassed that,” Kerns said.

Republican Assembly members Tim Donnelly, Brian Jones and Shannon Grove will help spearhead the recall initiative. At a news conference Thursday, Donnelly, who is also running for governor, said the Democrats’ votes for gun-control legislation was cause enough to mount the recall efforts.

“Every single assemblyman and state senator swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution,” Donnelly said, according to local news outlets. “When they violate that oath by trying to erase the Second Amendment, I think we have a duty for those who swore that oath to remove that threat.”

Kerns said her coalition, which includes Gun Owners of California and will operate under a 501(c)(4) umbrella group dubbed Free California, will weigh how California legislators voted on a dozen gun-control bills, and the political performance of their districts, before kicking off drives against specific members. But she told California media outlets that five Democratic incumbents were likely to be targets of the recall efforts — Assembly Speaker John Perez, Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez and Sharon Quirk-Silva, and state Sens. Ben Hueso and Norma Torres.

“I think the list will continue to evolve. We’re still looking at the numbers,” Kerns said in an interview.

State law [pdf] allows voters to recall legislators by collecting thousands of signatures. Recall backers must turn in a number of signatures equal to 12 percent of the total number of votes cast in the previous election. That means recall backers will have to collect more than 15,800 valid signatures to recall Quirk-Silva, who represents an Orange County district, or as few as 3,055 signatures to recall Gonzalez, who was elected to a San Diego area seat in a special election this year.

It’s unlikely the group will go after Brown, given the expense of mounting a statewide campaign. Kerns pointed to Democratic Govs. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, both of whom saw their poll numbers drop after signing gun-control laws. And, she said, the legislators were the ones who took the votes.

“The legislative bills originated in the state legislature. They were pushed by these very legislators,” Kerns said. “We’re going directly to the source.”

But even if they succeed in forcing a recall election, proponents may face an uphill fight. Four of the Democrats won office with at least 64 percent of the vote. Only Quirk-Silva, against whom recall backers will need to gather the most signatures, represents a somewhat swing district; she won election in 2012, 52 percent to 48 percent.

“Legislative elections here are far more expensive than they are anywhere else, a difference that favors incumbents and the party organizations behind them. In California, the teacher unions are far better organized than gun groups, and they would work hard to protect Democratic incumbents,” Pitney said. “For the moment, at least, hostility toward the state legislature has abated.  We passed a budget on time and went through the year without additional tax increases.  Things will probably change for the worse in the years ahead, but for now, Californians are keeping their pitchforks in the cellar.”

And unlike in Colorado, where gun-control advocates are pursuing another recall against a Democratic state senator that could flip control of the chamber, California Republicans are nowhere near exerting control over either legislative chamber. Democrats hold a 25-15 advantage in the state Senate and a 52-28 edge in the Assembly.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson · October 25, 2013