Jeff Denham recall, California (2008)

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The Jeff Denham recall was an effort to recall Jeff Denham, a Republican member of the 12th California State Senate district. Supporters of the recall turned in over 60,000 signatures in February. On April 1, 2008, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued the necessary proclamation decreeing that the date of the recall election would be June 3, 2008.[1] Denham was elected by a landslide in 2006 to his second term in office, garnering 61 percent of the votes.

The recall effort was overwhelmingly defeated at the polls.[2]

The pro-recall effort was instigated by Democrat Don Perata, a legislative rival of Denham, who became infuriated in 2007 when Denham refused to vote for the state budget Perata wanted. The recall campaign was largely funded by labor unions consisting of government employees such as AFSCME and SEIU. The recall galvanized support for Denham from across the state.[3]

If the recall had succeeded, Monterey County Supervisor Simon Salinas – a former Democratic assemblyman and the only other name listed on the June 3 recall ballot – would have taken Denham's place in office.[4]

Previous California recalls

There have been only seven California state legislative recalls since the state adopted recall in 1911, five of which succeeded. Three of those recalls in the last 25 years have switched party control in the state senate. If the Denham recall had succeeded, it would not have switched party control but it would have given Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata two-thirds Democratic control in the Senate, enough to overturn a gubernatorial veto.[5][6]

Motivation for recall

Denham opposed the California budget bill in the summer of 2007 because it relied on deficit spending. Senate Democrats threatened him with a recall campaign. Some of the money funding the recall came from a campaign fund for Don Perata, who was one of the main sponsors of California Proposition 93 (2008), the unsuccessful attempt to extend the legislative terms of some incumbents, including Perata.[7] On April 13, 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle editorialized that "There is no way to say it any more plainly: The case against Denham is about retribution and partisan pettiness."[8] The state Democratic Party spent over $600,000 collecting signatures to put the recall on the ballot.[9] In May 2008, Perata said that if the recall succeeds, it will help Democrats pass a budget with tax increases.[10]

Campaigning in Modesto to retain his seat, Denham said, "I will not be pressured or bullied into voting for something that doesn't make sense for the district I represent. None of our elected officials should ever feel intimidated by somebody else coming into our district to pressure their political will."

Money to support recall from unions, out-of-district

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "None of the $495,000 raised this year by the pro-recall group comes from the district." Big Labor is spending Big Money on the recall. In late April, AFSCME put $300,000 into the recall, and the California State Council of Service Employees added another $450,000.[11]

Perata drops supports for recall

On May 7, Perata said he was dropping his support for the recall. "In the spirit of putting politics aside to solve problems -- I'm ending the recall campaign," Perata said. Kevin Spillane, a spokesman for Denham, was skeptical, pointing out that the recall question remained on the June 3 ballot and "they just upped their media buy to $1.4 million."[12][13]

Some Denham supporters believed that Perata's statement was a "dirty trick" intended to lull Denham supporters into thinking they needn't vote.[14]

Democratic, other opponents of the recall

Democrat Elizabeth Gage, who voted against Denham, wrote in the Hollister Freelance on April 29 that she opposed the recall, writing, "It's such an obviously opportunistic power grab and possible payback for the recall of former Gov. Gray Davis that I am embarrassed to be a registered Democrat."[15] Bill Lyons, a former Secretary of Agriculture and a prominent Democrat in one of the 12th District's counties (Stanislaus) opposed the recall, saying, "In my opinion this recall is unjustified and is a waste of taxpayer money."[16]

The Merced County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on April 29 to oppose the recall.

Campaign messaging

Anti-Denham ads

The group supporting the recall released a YouTube video/30 second ad on April 3 that establishes some of the themes they would be repeating during the recall effort.[17] The main themes are:

  • Denham is alleged to have gone on junkets to Las Vegas "and a Sedona spa" when he should have been doing state work;
  • Denham is alleged to have benefited from "a secret pay increase."

Former Los Angeles Times reporter Joe Matthews said the ad is "at once, funny, unfair and probably effective in getting voters to pay attention to the recall."[18][19]

A second television spot, the "Teacher" ad, was released in early May. The ad scolded Denham for arguing against pay raises but allegedly lobbying for a pay raise. It showed copies of letters Denham wrote requesting pay increases from two different state controllers, and said, "He secretly canceled his pay cut and started collecting a 12 percent pay raise."[20]

Pro-Denham ads

The Denham campaign started running television ads in early April 2008. The first ad featured former Secretary of State Bill Jones and quotes from California newspapers saying the recall is wrong.[21]

Campaign costs

The campaign was expensive on both sides. Denham estimated he would need $3.5 million, and believed his opponents would spend twice that amount.[22]

Between January 1 and May 17, "Friends of Jeff Denham Against the Recall" spent $2.25 million.[23]

Friends of Denham seeks criminal charges against Perata

The organization, "Friends of Jeff Denham against the recall," requested the state attorney general and the Sacramento County district attorney to file criminal complaints against recall supporter Don Perata. The basis for their action was the use by Perata of public employees to support the recall.[24]

Controversy over petition drive

In order for the recall supporters to force an election, organizers needed 31,084 signatures from registered voters in the 12th District by February 13, 2008. These signatures were collected by paid signature collectors. Evidence for the expense and difficulty of the petition drive is that of 120 attempts in California to recall a state legislator, only nine have succeeded in making the ballot.

In early December 2007, signature gatherers for the Denham recall effort were accused of violating residency requirements. In California recall petition drives, legislative recall petition circulators are required to live in the district in which they are circulating the recall petitions.

A California website published audio recordings of four petition circulators where the circulators appear to be saying that they live outside the district.[25]

"Friends of Jeff Denham Against the Recall" then filed a complaint with the California Attorney General alleging that the circulators had violated the law.[26] In an article in the Modesto Bee, the audiotapes are described:

"The workers, some paid $3 a signature, also mislead the residents by explaining that their signatures are needed to make upgrades to Highway 99, according to the conversations."

In response, Denham is proposing California Senate Bill 1686 (2008), a bill that would impose criminal penalties on petition drive companies under certain circumstances. When the bill was announced, Denham said, "“California is tired of this fraudulent activity. These ruthless organizers will be punished for continuing these unethical efforts."Merced Sun,[27]

Merced County Registrar of Voters Stephen Jones planned to file a complaint alleging signature irregularities based on the signatures his office scrutinized.[28] The petition drive management company that collected the signatures is Discovery Petition Management Company, earning at least $246,000 in the process.[29]

External links

Historical recalls
Recall news
Recall laws

Links to campaign materials


  1. Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Proclamation for 12th Senate District Special Election
  2. Associated Press, Calif. state senator survives recall attempt (dead link), June 3, 2008
  3. Los Angeles Times, Atwater lawmaker targeted in recall draws wide support, May 5, 2008
  4. Simon Salinas candidate biography
  5. Senator Jeff Denham facing recall, April 9, 2008
  6. Mercury News, "Efforts to recall legislators show mixed results nationwide", March 28, 2008
  7. Modesto Bee, Denham recall: Is it grassroots or politics?, November 19, 2007
  8. San Francisco Chronicle, "Beyond an abuse of the recall process", April 13, 2008
  9. San Francisco Chronicle, Recall effort mirrors state budget tiff, April 28, 2008
  10. Mercury News, Senate leader defends recall effort against GOP lawmaker
  11. Hank Shaw's blog, Denham Recall: Labor adds another $450k (timed out), April 30, 2008
  12. Perata pulls plug on Denham recall, May 7, 2008
  13. Modesto Bee, Perata drops bids to recall Sen. Jeff Denham, May 7, 2008
  14. Modesto Bee, Overcome dirty politics by voting, June 2, 2008
  15. Hollister Freelance, Democrat to Democrat: Denham recall is nonsense, April 29, 2008
  16. Hank Shaw's blog, Lyons opposes Denham recall (timed out), April 25, 2008
  17. We Deserve Better; Yes on the Recall of Jeff Denham
  18. Blockbuster Democracy, "Recall ads up", April 4, 2008
  19. Air wars begin in Denham recall
  20. California Majority Report, "Teacher" Ad Scolds Denham for Pay-Raise Deception, May 1, 2008
  21. Sacramento Bee, Denham airs anti-recall ads, April 10, 2008
  22. Sacramento Bee, Drive to recall Denham goes beyond budget bad blood with Perata, April 15, 2008
  23. Modesto Bee, Sen. Denham deserves to be recalled, June 2, 2008
  24. The Salinas Californian, Denham seeks criminal charges against Perata, April 24, 2008
  25. California Flash Report, "More legal trouble for Sen. Don Perata? Scandal with the Denham recall effort", December 6, 2007
  26. Modesto Bee, "Denham group files complaint with state" December 17, 2007
  27. "Denham strikes back", April 10, 2008
  28. Merced Sun, "Friends of Sen. Denham respond to recall plans; Group complains that using out-of-district signature gatherers breaks state law", April 3, 2008
  29. Signature-gathering expenses, Jeff Denham recall

Additional reading