January 4, 2022- Sean Varner, Vice Chair, Little Hoover Commission and CA Recall -Hybrid Meeting In-Person and via ZOOM

Tuesday, January 4, 2021

Hybrid Meeting In-Person and via ZOOM


Present:  Deborah Barmack, Peter Barmack, Carole Beswick, Greg Bradbard, Mike Burrows, Mark Cloud, Ken Coate, Michelle Decker, Kevin Dyerly, Louis Goodwin, T. Milford Harrison, Fran Inman, Mark Kaenel, Lowell King, Bill Lemann, Darcy McNaboe, Miguel Mendoza, John Mirau, Tomas Morales, Dan Murphy, Vikki Ostermann, Bansree Parikh, Steve PonTell, Catherine Pritchett, Thomas Rice, Karen Richmond, Dan Roberts, Kristine Scott, Paul Shimoff, Eric Ustation, Pete Van Helden, Reggie Webb, Michael Wells, Marisa Yeager and Frank Zabaleta.

Guests: Julian Cuevas and Sheriff Dicus,

Announcements:  1) The Environment Committee along with members of the Monday Morning Group will meet immediately following today’s presentation.  2) Next week Inland Action will hold the Annual Meeting. Committee work on 2022 Federal issues will immediately follow the business portion of the meeting.  This is a Zoom only meeting.

Lowell King, Chair presiding.

Motion by K. Coate/Second by M. Burrows/Passed: Minutes from December 14, 2021.

Fran Inman introduced Sean Varner, Vice-Chair, Little Hoover Commission who joined us in-person to discuss the California recall system.

The California Little Hoover Commission is an independent California state oversight agency, modeled after the Hoover Commission and created in 1962, that investigates State government operations and promotes efficiency, economy and improved service through reports, recommendations, and legislative proposals.  In addition, the Commission has a statutory obligation to review and make recommendations on all proposed government reorganization plans.

The Commission’s staff is nonpartisan, and by statute, the Commission itself is bipartisan. The Commission has four Commissioners from the Legislature: two from each house and each party. Additionally, there are nine Commissioners from the public, and no more than five can be from the same political party. The Commission is also staffed by seven permanent employees and occasional student interns. The Commission has broad and independent authority to evaluate the structure, organization, operation and function of every department, agency and executive branch of State government, along with the policies and methods for appropriating and administering funds.  Unlike fiscal or performance audits, the Commission’s studies look beyond whether programs comply with existing statutes and regulations. They instead explore how programs can and should function today and in the future.

In 2021 the Commission has surpassed work done in prior years and included issuance of 10 reports, 46 recommendations to the Governor and Legislature, support of 13 bills (7 of which were signed into law), 12 public hearings and testimony from 44 different witnesses.

In 2021, for the second time in two decades, Californians went to the polls to vote on the recall of the State’s governor. The attempted recall of Governor Gavin Newsom brought significant attention to the recall and spurred calls to reform California’s recall system.

As California’s bipartisan, independent oversight agency, the Little Hoover Commission is considering whether California’s system for recalling state office-holders should be changed, and if so, how. The Commission’s study examines the history of the recall in California, how the recall process operates, and how the recall works in other states. It also explores the arguments for and against changes to the recall and evaluates potential reforms that have been suggested.

The recall system in California was adopted more than 100 years ago and our state is one of 19 other states that have a recall system.  They have explored arguments for and against changes to the recall and have evaluated potential reforms.  They have held 3 public hearings featuring current and former elected officials, academic experts, election officials, public-opinion pollsters and received over 150 public comments.

Historically most recall attempts have not made it to the ballot due to the number of signatures needed; but times have changed.  Currently voters can recall a state officer at any time and for any reason (or no reason).  To get a recall on the ballot, California requires 12% of the voters to sign the recall petition (this number is considered to be a very low threshold).  Additionally, once on the ballot our system has a two-question recall system asking 1) Do you support the recall and 2) Who do you think should replace the state official if they are recalled.  Much of the criticism of the system focuses on the fact that an elected official could be removed from office even if more votes were cast against the recall than for the replacement candidate.  Reforms posed to the Commission include:

  • Higher signature threshold
  • Change signature threshold to a percentage of registered voters
  • Require a legal standard for when a recall can occur
  • Allow targeted official to run in a “snap election”
  • Hold a run-off between top two replacements candidates.
  • Hold an entirely separate election a month or two after the recall

As most of the major structural components are written into the state Constitution major changes will be left to the voters.  The Legislature can refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot, but voters have the final say.  The unsuccessful recall last year cost $350M

For up-to-date reports and information please see the Commission’s web site at:  https://lhc.ca.gov/

A Q & A period followed.
Meeting adjourned at 8:35 a.m.