Pun­ished for just do­ing his job

The Josh New­man re­call ef­fort is all about po­lit­i­cal re­tal­i­a­tion.

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Ja­son Sex­ton Ja­son Sex­ton is ed­i­tor in chief of Boom Cal­i­for­nia, pub­lished by Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, and teaches at Cal State Fuller­ton.

One of the more trou­bling things hap­pen­ing in Cal­i­for­nia pol­i­tics right now is the sig­na­ture-gath­er­ing ef­fort to re­call fresh­man state Sen. Josh New­man from his seat in the 29th District, strad­dling Los An­ge­les, Orange and San Bernardino coun­ties. Ef­forts on the ground con­sist of can­vassers in park­ing lots and su­per­mar­ket en­try­ways, con­fi­dently of­fer­ing shop­pers a chance to re­peal the lat­est gas tax hike if they sign.

That’s an en­tic­ing of­fer. Com­muters with young fam­i­lies and steep mort­gages, late-ca­reer pro­fes­sion­als closely mon­i­tor­ing their 401ks as the 2008 re­ces­sion sits un­com­fort­ably in the rearview, and re­tirees with grand­kids climbing a tu­ition moun­tain — ev­ery­one wants a re­prieve.

But the can­vassers aren’t telling the whole story; re­call­ing New­man won’t mag­i­cally undo the $52-bil­lion trans­porta­tion pack­age passed by the state Leg­is­la­ture in early April, which funds road im­prove­ments with a 12cent-per-gal­lon gas tax in­crease and a bump in ve­hi­cle regis­tra­tion fees.

The sig­na­ture-gath­er­ing ef­fort to re­call New­man, as the pres­i­dent of the Howard Jarvis Tax­pay­ers Assn. can­didly ad­mit­ted in an oped for the Orange County Reg­is­ter, is re­ally about “po­lit­i­cal re­tal­i­a­tion,” not a leg­isla­tive re­ver­sal.

New­man did vote for the trans­porta­tion pack­age, but he was hardly “the de­cid­ing fac­tor,” as one Re­pub­li­can-funded ad claims. The bill passed the state Se­nate 2711, and one Re­pub­li­can, Modesto’s Sen. An­thony Can­nella, voted for it too. The re­call ef­fort tar­gets New­man sim­ply be­cause he won a his­tor­i­cally Re­pub­li­can district by only 3,185 votes. Repub­li­cans view this as their seat, and they are keen to take it back.

One force be­hind the re­call ef­fort is a for­mer San Diego City Coun­cil mem­ber who hosts a lo­cal talk ra­dio show, Carl DeMaio. San Diego state Sen. Joel An­der­son from the 38th District is also on board. They’ve been en­cour­ag­ing folks to swarm Wal-Mart and Sprouts stores in Ana­heim, Fuller­ton, Brea, Yorba Linda, Chino Hills and West Cov­ina to col­lect the req­ui­site 63,592 sig­na­tures from reg­is­tered vot­ers in New­man’s district. (By Fri­day, pro­po­nents had al­ready gath­ered over half of the sig­na­tures.)

I met two sig­na­ture-gath­er­ers at my lo­cal su­per­mar­ket. Nei­ther lived in the district; both ac­knowl­edged that they knew noth­ing about Cal­i­for­nia pol­i­tics in gen­eral or New­man in par­tic­u­lar. What’s more, an analysis of re­cent tax doc­u­ments re­vealed that as of Satur­day, less than 5% of the $44,000 raised to re­call New­man came from New­man’s con­stituency.

Those be­hind the re­call ef­fort don’t seem to care that New­man won a fair elec­tion, or that at­tempt­ing to re­call a leg­is­la­tor just for do­ing his job — vot­ing for what he be­lieves is right — sows tur­bu­lence and chaos. No one’s ac­cus­ing New­man of in­com­pe­tence or cor­rup­tion, high crimes or mis­de­meanors.

And it’s not as if there’s no down side to the re­call ef­fort. If it’s suc­cess­ful, a stand­alone elec­tion could cost OC tax­pay­ers alone up to $1.6 mil­lion, and that’s not in­clud­ing what L.A. and San Bernardino coun­ties will have to put up or the cost to the state as a whole. Sup­port­ers of the re­call don’t seem to mind the waste.

We run elec­tions all the time. Why not just wait for the next cy­cle and then chal­lenge New­man on the mer­its?

New­man’s a big boy and he can de­fend him­self. One thing lost in the gas-tax furor, how­ever, is who he ac­tu­ally is. He hosts town halls and lo­cal cof­fee gath­er­ings, vol­un­teers at our Spe­cial Olympics events, ad­vo­cates for veter­ans and reg­u­larly meets with con­stituents to hear our con­cerns, all while car­ing for a young fam­ily. He’s com­mu­nity-ori­ented, com­mit­ted and con­nected.

What­ever New­man’s an­gry op­po­nents think of the trans­porta­tion bill or New­man’s vote in fa­vor of it, they ought to con­sider the fact that he’s ac­tu­ally a pretty good rep­re­sen­ta­tive of his con­stituency.

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