September 14, 2021 Pissed Off Voter Guide

League Endorsements for the Governor Recall Election:

Question 1: Hell No
Question 2: No Endorsement

TL;DR: Vote NO on the recall (to keep Newsom in office, *sigh*) and tell everyone you know to do the same. For the second question (who will succeed him if he’s recalled) we made no formal endorsement. You can leave it blank or vote for a longshot candidate (Joel Ventresca was the only candidate who aligned with our values and got support from our members, but not quite enough to snag an endorsement).

Keeping read for:

Voting Logistics 
  • Every registered voter will receive a vote-by-mail ballot. If you mail it in, you don't need a stamp, but make sure you sign the envelope and it's postmarked by Election Day.
  • Vote early at the City Hall Voting Center in the basement of City Hall. 8/16-9/13: Weekdays (except Labor Day) 8am-5pm. 9/4-9/5 and 9/11-9/12: 10am-4pm. 9/14: 7am-8pm. Any voter may request to vote “curbside” at the Voting Center by calling (415) 554-4375.
  • Drop off your ballot at the City Hall Voting Center in the basement of City Hall or at a polling place on Election Day. Dropping off your ballot means you don't have to worry about the Post Office delivering it in time.
  • 9/14: Election Day! Polls open 7am-8pm. If you’re in line by 8pm you can vote! 
  • Where’s your polling place? Check, call 311, or just go vote at City Hall.
  • Did you forget to register? You can still vote! Go to City Hall or your polling place and tell them you want to "register conditionally and vote provisionally!"
  • People with Felony Convictions Can Vote! You can still vote as long as you’re off parole. Don’t let the Man disenfranchise you.
  • Youth can (almost) vote! If you’re 16 or 17, pre-register and your registration will automatically be activated when you turn 18.

What the hell is going on with this recall??

If you’re not a politics nerd, you might be confused as to why there’s an election in California right now. Not only is it an “off year” but it’s still September! Aren’t elections normally in November?

Here’s the backstory: California allows its voters to “recall” (ie, boot out) a Governor without having to wait for the next normal election. First, a campaign gathers signatures to trigger the recall election, then we all vote Yes or No on the question “Should we recall the current governor?”, and on the same ballot pick someone to replace them. Sounds like a useful fail-safe, right? Power to the people? Well, there’s a few issues: 

  • First, all the potential replacements for the governor are crammed on one giant ballot, and if the recall succeeds, the replacement who gets the most votes wins. But that could be only 30%, 20%, or less of the people that voted! We could end up with a governor that only a tiny fraction of the population voted for.
  • Second, there’s no rule that the recall election needs bigger turnout than the election that installed the governor in the first place. And the recall election is often at a wacky time (like this one, which is on September 14th), which reduces turnout. If turnout doesn’t beat Nov 2018’s 64%,  it’s very possible that fewer voters vote to recall the governor than voted for them initially...but “Yes” still gets over 50% and they’re out. That’s undemocratic.
  • Third, the recall process was designed for cases of gross misconduct or corruption...but the rules don’t mandate this, so it can be triggered whenever people feel like it. In this case, the argument against Newsom is just a word salad of right-wing hooey, not a clear case of malfeasance.

That leads us to the current landscape. Democratic voters outnumber Republican ones in the Golden State, but Republicans still want the Governor’s mansion. Since they’ll never take it in a fair fight, they’ve deployed a new strategy: wait until a Democrat is elected, then pay $8M for a signature-gathering campaign to trigger a recall, and hope that A: it succeeds and B: a Republican is the one left standing when the dust settles - which is probable, since the vote will be split so many ways that a charismatic right-winger can gather a plurality. The Republicans know that plenty of lefties (like us*, more on that below) hate Newsom and might vote to turf him out without thinking too hard about the consequences. Heck, even if the recall fails, it weakens the incumbent by highlighting their flaws, forcing them to ‘play defense’, move rightward to fend off Republican arguments, spend time campaigning and raising money, etc. It’s a win for the bad guys either way.

So if there’s a chance Newsom will eat it, why didn’t the Democrats field a candidate?

There aren’t many serious candidates among the 46 on the ballot - and none of the Democrats are endorsed by the CA Democratic party. They plumped for that strategy (“all in on Newsom surviving”) because of fears that running a real candidate would hamper Newsom’s efforts to hang on. When this same drama played out almost twenty years ago, serious Democrat (and Lt. Governor) Cruz Bustamante was in the mix to replace Democratic Governor Gray Davis, and some people think that his campaign made Davis look bad. UItimately Davis was defenestrated and a telegenic Republican, Arnold Schwartzenegger, became Governator.

We get the logic, but most of us think that was a bad call. If Arnold hadn’t run, it’s very likely Cruz Bustamante would have won as he received more than twice the votes of the next candidate. Things are very different now, and with a careful campaign and on-brand messaging, we think a Democratic ‘just in case’ candidate would have been fine. And if non-Republicans sit out Question 2, we’re leaving it up to the YES RECALL voters to pick the next governor all on their own. Surely the CA Democratic Party has some kind of backup plan??

The California Constitution is vague about recalls, and if Newsom loses the recall, it’s likely that his campaign lawyers will argue that Lt Governor Eleni Kounalakis should replace Newsom. This helps explain the Newsom campaign’s strategy of discouraging voters to answer Question 2 so their legal team can say “Hey look hardly anybody voted!” when they attempt to overturn the results of the election in court. But these are presumably the same lawyers that fucked up his election paperwork that prevent him from being listed as a Democrat on the ballot (paperwork that was required by a law that he himself signed as Governor in 2019) FACEPALM. 

If we were cynical, we might wonder if Newsom’s motivation to keep other Dems off the ballot was to save his own ass more than preventing a Republican from taking over. (Fun fact: Jane Fonda thought about running a campaign focused on climate change--seriously enough that her team conducted a poll that showed (a) Gav was vulnerable and (b) she likely would’ve beat the Republicans. And coincidentally, all of Gavin’s recent climate initiatives happened right after that poll was conducted. Hmmm!)

But whatever. Those ships have sailed. Our only decision at this point was whether to endorse a Break Glass in Case of Emergency candidate from the peanut gallery, or go with a “No Endorsement” because no one who shares our values was actually going to win anyway. 

Many of us liked the idea of endorsing a League-aligned scrapper, even if they weren't going to come out on top. But we were also concerned that throwing our official weight behind a candidate could be interpreted as endorsing a Yes on the recall, which we definitely aren't! After lots of debate, we ended up with No Endorsement. But if you’re looking for a candidate to mark, many of us liked Joel Ventresca - he’s the least bad of all of the 46 candidates and has a progressive track record.

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The Replacement Candidates: So who are these random yahoos anyway?

The Case for Joel Ventresca: Many Leaguers thought that if we endorsed anybody, we should endorse Joel Ventresca as the least bad random yahoo who was somewhat aligned with the League. Ventresca is an old school San Francisco political gadfly. He ran for Mayor against London Breed in 2019 and came in 3rd (his 3rd mayor’s race). The closest Ventresca ever got to victory was coming in 2nd to Susan Leal for Treasurer in 1997. A former union leader, he led the Coalition for SF Neighborhoods campaign against WIllie Brown’s 1997 stadium bond. A career bureaucrat in City Government (Airport Commission, SF Aging Commission), Ventresca was appointed to the Commission on SF’s Environment during the 90s by Board President Angela Alioto (which is the reason he gives for endorsing Alioto in the 2018 Mayor’s Race). 

He probably would have won our endorsement if he was telling people to oppose the recall. His website doesn’t say whether he’s for or against it, but he has a page listing criticisms of Newsom. He doesn’t appear to be running much of a campaign with no fundraising besides his own funds, and no public events or social media game.  But on the issues, he’s a progressive Democrat who generally lines up with our values as he detailed fully in his 2019 Pissed Off Voter Guide Questionnaire. Make big business pay their fare share, make SF zero carbon emissions, free public transit, protect tenants, criminal justice reform. Ventresca won’t win, but at least we won’t feel bad voting for him.

Don’t vote for Kevin Paffrath (top-polling Democrat): We’d prefer not to Meet Kevin, thanks. This (wait for it) “Landlord Influencer” has a big online following for offering get-rich-quick real estate tips and drives a Tesla Model X with his own face on it. His platform includes expanding gun rights, slashing social safety net funding, building tunnels under existing freeways instead of investing in transit, and giving more money to police. What’s scary is he’s running as a Democrat and doing pretty well in the polls (maybe just because he’s kind of internet famous or some people find this bro shit “relatable?”) For a hot second, we considered if we should hold our nose and support this guy just to keep a Democrat in the running, but really, his bread-and-butter anti-tenant BS is enough for us to give a hard PASS.  This quote says it all: “Tenants usually don’t have very good imagination. If they had good imagination, they would be buying properties that need work, and not renting them ‘once they’re done.’” Yep, the reason that people are renting instead of owning is because they lack imagination. Efffffff you, buddy.

Probably don’t vote for the two Greens: Dan Kapelovitz is an animal rights lawyer and defense attorney. Our favorite part of his platform is he wants to abolish the death penalty except for Corporations deemed as persons (ha!).  Heather Collins is a hairstylist and salon owner who disagrees with Newsom’s handling of COVID (specifically the part about closing salons for a bit).  Both candidates joined the Green Party this year, which probably seemed like an awesome recall strategy at the time.

There are five Republicans running who have legit name recognition and/or fundraising. The leader in the polls so far is Larry Elder, a right-wing talk radio host. He helped give Trump-stooge Stephen Miller his start back when little Stevie was a high school Hitler Youth wannabe. He opposes the minimum wage, abortion rights, welfare, gun control, and, fuck me, he could be our next Governor. The other Republicans include a member of the Assembly, a former San Diego Mayor, a former member of the House, and Caitlyn Jenner, who swears she’s serious about her campaign, despite being in Australia for the last month filming “Big Brother VIP.” This is the state of our state. 

The rest of ‘em: Isn’t it weird that the folks who wanted the recall election held in the first place don’t even have their own front-runner that they’d like for a replacement Governor? Like, what was their plan? We ended up with a motley crew of small business owners, local elected officials from around the state, fathers, mothers, teachers, attention-getters for boutique issues like Universal Basic Income, anti-vaxx, and cannabis, and Angelyne the L.A. Billboard Queen (who you Gen Xers may remember running in the Grey Davis recall). Many of the candidates have switched political parties more times than Gavin has broken his own pandemic rules, and most of them have raised zero money and have zero political experience. But by the luck of ballot placement or some sort of tragic memestorm, any one of these randos could be our next Governor! God help us.

* What’s our beef with Newsom, you ask? He was Mayor of our City, right? Republicans hate him, right? Well, it’s complicated. Perhaps some background. As our Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Mayor, Gavin has been in power throughout the League’s existence, and while he’s done some good things and he’s wayyy better than a Republican Governor, he’s basically been a pompous, problematic pain in our asses. Our 2018 voter guide has a good summary of some of our issues with him. There have been some common themes throughout his career, like vilifying unhoused San Franciscans (and then Californians), happily becoming the face of policies (like gay marriage) that his political foes busted their asses to pass without much help from him, and governing-by-press-conference. And as Governor, he’s been pretty much like we expected: better than a Republican, not awful, but still hella problematic. Most of our allies engaged in statewide activism (god bless them!) have run into beef with him: from tenant organizers trying to stop pandemic-related evictions to climate activists trying to stop fracking to nurses and health care workers frustrated with his dithering on single payer health care. So we’re doing what we can to bail him out of this recall mess, but dang are we sick of dealing with his nonsense!

Aaaaaaanyway, this whole thing is annoying BUT it’s super important that SF turns out and votes NO on the recall. Tell your friends, coworkers, neighbors, and baristas - it might be tempting to sit this one out but we could literally end up with a Rush Limbaugh wannabe or a 12-year-old asshole landlord making the rules for 40 million Californians during one of the most important and difficult times in our history. Now fill out that ballot, pat yourself on the back, and text 3 friends to do the same!


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Sidenote: Don’t Sign Local SF Recall Petitions

You may have heard there are a couple other recall campaigns kicking around locally.  Anti-criminal justice reform Republicans (and the Moderate Democrats they write checks to) are after our District Attorney Chesa Boudin, and a minority of angry parents are gunning for School Board Members Lopez, Collins, and Moliga. For the record, all of our arguments against recalls as undemocratic power plays apply to those too. We feel strongly that recalls should only be considered for gross misconduct or corruption, not because you disagree with who won the election or don’t like how they’re doing their job now (especially if it aligns with their campaign promises).

And SF recalls are even worse because a) no campaign contribution limits and b) no option to pick new candidates. That’s right, if any SF leaders get recalled, we don’t get to vote on their replacement. The Mayor (who we have plenty of beef with) gets to appoint whoever she wants. WTF?! We’ll have more to say if those make it on the ballot, but we hope they won’t make it that far. For now, tell everyone you know: don’t sign those damn petitions!

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Make California Recall Process More Democratic

It's a stretch to call California Recalls anti-democratic, but they're certainly way less democratic than other states that require a reason for recalling an elected official- usually an unethical or illegal act by the elected. 2/3rds of California voters support some level of recall reform. Here are some things we’d like to see in a statewide ballot measure to reform the Recall:

  • Schedule recall elections with next general elections to ensure high turnout and reduce cost of a dedicated election
  • Run-off election for top two vote-getters. This could have resulted in a Cruz Bustamante governorship.
  • Increase signature threshold for recall petitions. This is an attempt to compensate for the unlimited fundraising recall campaigns can solicit.
  • Require a reason for recall. Only unethical or illegal activity should be grounds for a recall.
  • Campaign finance laws for recall campaign committees. California treats recall committees as ballot measure committees, so state and local contribution limits do not apply. Billionaires can use unlimited dollars to buy signatures and votes, doing an end run around elections. 
  • Define a line of succession. The “only elect a replacement at the same time as a recall, If appropriate” clause of the CA Constitution has shaky legal ground. For Assemblymembers, a recall results in a subsequent special election. Recalled Governors get to share a ballot with random yahoos. 
  • Statewide recall law baseline for each county. Provide countywide election departments with state baselines for recall signature thresholds, recall election timing, and recall campaign finance requirements.

We know the law of unintended consequences can have a wicked effect on changes to our democracy, but California is a laboratory for democracy - and it’s a shame that so many other states have such better recall processes. We support efforts to Reform the Recall so that our democracy can defend against the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by corporations and billionaires to buy our elections.

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Meet the SF League of Pissed Off Voters

We're a bunch of political geeks in a torrid love affair with San Francisco. The League formed in 2004 with the goal of building a progressive governing majority in our lifetime. Our contribution is this voter guide⁠: a secret decoder ring for SF politics. All of us lucky enough to enjoy the San Francisco magic owe it to our City to fight to keep it diverse, just, and healthy.

This voter guide (our 27th in SF!) is thoroughly researched and thoroughly biased. It’s how we educate our friends on the issues, excite pissed-off progressive voters, and remind sellout politicians that we’re paying attention.

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  • The League
    published this page in Voter Guides! 2021-08-15 23:03:49 -0700

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