The ability to recall elected officials came along with the initiative and referendum processes. The movement in California was spearheaded by Republican Governor Hiram Johnson, a reformist, who called the recall process a “precautionary measure by which a recalcitrant official can be removed.” For a recall, only the will of the people is necessary to remove an official.

The 2003 recall was prompted by several actions taken by Davis, including his preventing the enactment of Proposition 187 (illegal immigration) and his signing of two new highly restrictive gun-control laws, as well as the California electricity crisis of the early 2000s. According to the circulated petition:

[Governor Davis’ actions were a] gross mismanagement of California Finances by overspending taxpayers’ money, threatening public safety by cutting funds to local governments, failing to account for the exorbitant cost of the energy, and failing in general to deal with the state’s major problems until they get to the crisis stage.

Another hot-button issue that seemed to galvanize the public was the vehicle license fee increase. The increase tripled the vehicle license fee for the average car owner, and began appearing in renewal notices starting August 1.

On February 5, 2003, anti-tax activist Ted Costa announced a plan to start a petition drive to recall Davis. Several committees were formed to collect signatures, but Costa’s Davis Recall Committee was the only one authorized by the state to submit signatures.

The recall movement began slowly, largely relying on talk radio, a website, cooperative e-mail, word-of-mouth, and grassroots campaigning to drive the signature gathering. Davis derided the effort as “partisan mischief” by “a handful of right-wing politicians”. Nevertheless, by mid-May recall proponents said they had gathered 300,000 signatures but was far from a sure thing and the proponents were short on cash to promote their cause.

The effort was taken seriously when Rep. Darrell Issa donated $2 million to a new committee, Rescue California, which then led the effort. Eventually, proponents gathered about 1.6 million signatures, of which 1,356,408 were certified as valid.

As the credibility of the effort grew, so did the list of credible candidates.  Over 135 candidates filed to run – beginning with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Former Baseball Commissioner and 1984 Olympic Chair Peter Ueberroth, then Assemblyman and now-Congressman Tom McClintock, and Congressman Darrell Issa.  Democrat candidates included then-Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante who lost in the run-off against Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Paid for by Rescue California – To Support the Recall of Gavin Newsom. FPPC ID# 1434853

Committee major funding by:


Geoff Palmer

California Republican Party