2021: The Year of the Recall
Last month, Michael Durand, the editor of the Richmond Review, asked if I might be interested in submitting a monthly column for the newspaper. He thought my perspective on city issues – in particular, political matters – would be of interest to readers by offering a different “view” on current issues. I hesitated to respond to him for weeks. Then, something clicked. And so, here we go!
2021 seems to be the year of the recall. This seldom-used tool is suddenly all around us, and I find it troubling. There are more than 60 recall efforts in our state – including one for governor just weeks ago – and recall efforts here for three Board of Education commissioners and our district attorney. It’s worth asking what changed so that so many of these are now on or headed to the ballot.
When I looked into it, I found that the most prominent recalls had something big in common: They are heavily funded and they are strictly political, although they would have you believe otherwise. You may have guessed, philosophically, I am against recalls.
Recalls are costly to taxpayers. I understand sometimes people get frustrated, but we have to weigh the very real costs of these recalls. It is estimated that the recall election of the School Board members alone will cost the San Francisco Unified School District more than $8 million, money that could be spent on students, services, debt reduction and building repairs. The irony is that these board members are up for re-election just months after the recall election. Voters could cast a vote for other candidates in November, choose not to re-elect them and save the district $8 million.
Recalls overturn the results of a democratic voting process. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we suddenly have a year of recalls on the heels of the 2020 election. I don’t believe the 2020 election was stolen. Just as I don’t believe recalls should be used to stop elected officials from carrying out the agenda voters selected.
I have supported many candidates who have lost elections. I have been disappointed. However, I understand that we need to allow voters’ choices to carry through on the platforms the voters picked because that’s democracy. There is a reason we have elections every four years. Voters have the opportunity to cast a vote for their choice. This is the basic foundation of our democracy. When we start second guessing the “quality” of one’s vote, the importance of the vote and the trust in voters, we have lost our way. If we overturn their vote, it is a travesty. In short, recalls are a form of voter suppression. We are denying the voters a chance to see their chosen candidate do what they were elected to do.
Recalls are funded by big and mostly dark money. Every one of these recent recall efforts has one thing in common: It needs money to fund it. Lots of money. When money can buy elections, we are in big trouble.
As I said, recalls are costly. The campaign to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin has already spent more than $1 million. What costs so much, you may ask. We have all seen people with tables set up to gather signatures to put the recall on the ballot. The majority of these people are paid, not volunteers. They come from the greater Bay Area, other parts of California, some from out of state. They all come to get $10 a signature for the recall of Chesa Boudin and $7 for each petition signed for the recall of each school board member. That’s $31 cash for your signature on four petitions, which adds up quickly.
It’s telling that the first effort to recall Chesa Boudin failed using only volunteer signature gatherers. So, the second campaign kicked into high gear, spending more than $1 million on signature gathering. As one signature gatherer in front of Safeway told me: “Everyone who gathers signatures is paid.” More importantly, where does this money come from? Approximately 80% of the money spent to recall the district attorney was paid for by one political action committee. The effort to recall three Board of Education members spent more than $600,000, with $100,000 donated by just three individuals.
Recalls allow the mayor to control what would normally be decided by voters.
As San Franciscans, are we willing to let big money undo our democratic process and lead us to full mayoral control? Should the mayor be able to appoint our city attorney, school board and district attorney, all elections where San Franciscans have traditionally had the opportunity to vote for their choice? Where does this end?
I have voted in every election since I was 19 years old. I look forward to voting in every election. I do my homework, research candidates and when they win, I judge them on the job they have performed and use that information to vote for them again or vote for a different candidate. Leave my vote alone.
Lastly, as we enter the season of Thanksgiving, I am reminded every day of how fragile human kindness and humanity are. Kindnesses that we once took for granted became more valuable during the shutdown as people turned inward, hostile and negative. Every day I tell myself how lucky I am and how I must be gracious in this wealth of good fortune – good health, wonderful and well children and a 40-year marriage to someone I still dig being with. This season, let’s take a moment to appreciate all that we have as individuals, as a friend or family member and as a neighborhood. We are indeed blessed.
“The highest form of wisdom is kindness” – The Talmud.
Sandra Lee Fewer is a fourth-generation Chinese-American San Franciscan, former Board of Education commissioner, a former member of the SF Board of Supervisors representing the Richmond District and has lived in the Richmond for more than 60 years.