There is little doubt that of the two active Republican candidates wanting to oppose Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s reelection next year, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado is far better known than Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who represents a largely rural district including vast stretches of desolate desert.
So what’s Donnelly to do in this era of the top two, open primary, when he needs to attract some Democratic and independent votes along with many conservative Republicans in order to get into a runoff with Brown?
How about a publicity stunt, and even better, how about one that will linger for months?
That’s what it seems to some Donnelly is now doing as he helps prepare attempts to recall the Democratic speaker of the state Assembly and several other fellow legislators. Donnelly, once active in the Minutemen anti-illegal immigration group and best known for getting arrested while trying to carry a Colt pistol onto an airliner in 2012, early on targeted only lawmakers with Spanish surnames who voted for California’s latest gun-control laws, although his strategist says there may be additions and/or subtractions from the initial list.
The strategist is Jennifer Kerns, a former spokeswoman both for the state Republican Party and for the campaign to pass the Proposition 8 gay marriage ban and a onetime Arnold Schwarzenegger press aide. More recently she helped run the successful early-autumn recall campaigns against two Colorado legislators who voted for gun controls. It’s fair to wonder whether it was coincidence that the recall notion surfaced about the time Kerns signed on with Donnelly.
Donnelly’s Minutemen connection and the choice at first to target only Hispanic legislators raise the question of whether the putative recalls might be racially motivated.
But other facts argue that this is more about publicity than anti-Latino bias or even gun control.
It’s not just the timing – why run a recall effort against people who will, for the most part, be up for reelection anyway within mere months of any possible recall vote? (Kerns’ answer: “This is different because it involves people feeling a Constitutional amendment has been usurped and that strikes a nerve with people.” She doesn’t say why this couldn’t just as well be the topic of a normal election campaign.)
And why does a nominal fiscal conservative want to spend millions of taxpayer dollars (any special election costs between $1 and $2.5 million) to hold votes so close to a regularly-scheduled election?
Publicity for Donnelly appears to be the most likely explanation. Especially since a successful recall appears possible against no more than one of the named targets. The Kerns response: “Tim Donnelly came to one of our recall meetings on his own before we ever joined with him.”
Donnelly’s most prominent potential whipping boy is Speaker John Perez. He will be termed out at the end of 2014. In 2012, Perez won reelection to the Assembly by an 83-17 percent margin in his Los Angeles County district. It’s unlikely his support there will simply vanish.
Similarly, San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez won office in a special election last spring with 71 percent of the vote in a district where Democrats took 97 percent of all votes. She doesn’t look vulnerable.
The only likely victim listed is Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva of Fullerton, who eked out a very narrow win last November. But a recall campaign against just one lawmaker would not draw much attention, so if you want to increase Donnelly’s notoriety, you might go after several.
Donnelly and Kerns plainly hope few analysts will look at the actual vote counts from the most recent elections won by their named targets. The publicity motive is visible to anyone who does.
Donnelly says this effort is purely about gun control and the Second Amendment. But no California district involved looks remotely like the ones where recalls succeeded in Colorado.
Still, if the National Rifle Assn. and other conservative groups can be persuaded to spend as heavily in California as they did in Colorado, Donnelly could get a lot of free exposure.
But even if that happens and Donnelly can somehow parlay it into a runoff slot opposite Brown, he’d still have virtually no chance of winning next fall against the well-funded, currently popular governor.