Dem State Senator Will Face Recall in California Over Gas-Tax Hike

State GOP celebrates rare victory as two more Republican congressmen announce retirements

California Gov. Jerry Brown / Getty Images

Republicans in the Golden State are celebrating a minor victory Wednesday as two more California GOP congressmen this week announced their retirements in the face of strong Democratic challengers.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday set June 5 as the date for a recall election for state Sen. Josh Newman, a recently elected Democrat whose surprise win in a Southern California district traditionally held by Republicans gave his party a super-majority that could pass tax increases and a sanctuary state law without a single GOP vote.

Instead of setting a separate date for a recall, Brown said he would combine it with the regular state primary election when voters will be casting ballots for governor and senator, likely helping his fellow Democrat because the primary election will produce higher Democratic turnout.

The news comes as two Republicans representing previous GOP strongholds in Southern California at the federal level, Reps. Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, announced their retirement in the face of long odds of holding onto their seats in districts that voted for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.

Carl DeMaio, the conservative San Diego talk show host and former San Diego city councilman who is leading the recall effort, on Tuesday celebrated the successful effort to launch a recall against Newman.

DeMaio and other Republicans blame Newman for cast the deciding April 6 vote in favor of a $52 billion transportation package that included an increase in gas taxes and car registration fees.

"Great news, with your help, the Gas Tax Repeal Campaign is thrilled to announce that Gov. Jerry Brown has been forced to call the recall election against State Senator Josh Newman—the politician we targeted for removal from office after he cast the deciding vote in the gas and car tax hikes!" DeMaio emailed supporters Tuesday.

Derek Humphrey, a campaign spokesman for Newman, called recall campaign "a waste of taxpayer dollars no matter when they schedule it," but noted that it would waste fewer dollars and allow more voters to participate because of Brown’s decision to set it on the same day as the primary election.

"This recall effort is another example of the same misguided politics-as-usual that people are tired of," Humphrey said in a statement. "It was sold as a repeal of the gas tax and it will do no such thing. We feel confident that the voters in California’s 29th Senate District will see through this charade and vote no on the recall."

The GOP campaign against Newman had to collect at least 63,592 signatures to force the Democratic-controlled government to hold a recall. The Newman camp had challenged the validity of thousands of the signatures, but the Secretary of State’s office determined enough were legitimate to launch the recall.

DeMaio previously told the Washington Free Beacon that a "rebellion is brewing" in California against the "out-of-control tax raisers in the state legislature" and cited success in collecting the signatures in the recall effort as proof.

Democratic state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, who is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) from the left in the Democratic primary, has pledged to marshal the resources needed to protect Newman in a prospective recall.

The recall campaign against Newman is the beginning of a broader statewide push to repeal the gas tax increases. Repealing a state law faces a much higher threshold than launching a recall campaign against a sitting lawmaker. DeMaio’s team needs 585,407 signatures from registered voters by March.

DeMaio on Tuesday said his group is "closing in on" 400,000 signatures and asked supporters to contribute to the campaign so it can keep collecting signatures in the waning weeks before the deadline.

"Please do what you can!" he said in his fundraising pitch. "Let's keep forcing Gov. Jerry Brown to do the things he hates to do – like calling the election that will finally repeal his costly gas-tax hikes."

In November, the first part of the gas tax increases went into effect, raising the state excise taxes on gasoline to 41.3 cents a gallon. When the law is fully phased in by mid-2019, that excise tax will climb to 47.3 cents per gallon.