Crime victims, prosecutors, and police have been trying for a year to oust freshman District Attorney George Gascon from office in Los Angeles, and they could finally have their chance later this year.
County officials have about four months to count recall petitions and set an election date after grassroots organizers delivered 717,000 signatures to the registrar of voters office on Wednesday. An attempt to recall Gascon fizzled last year for lack of signatures, but this time, the numbers appear to break records, said former Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine.
“I’m told that the numbers we submitted have beat every other [recall] record,” said Zine, one of the recall campaign leaders. “You can’t do this with volunteers alone. You have to pay people. We spent $60 million on this campaign. It’s a lot of money to get a guy out of office who is doing a terrible job. A lot of people are invested in this issue of public safety.”
Gascon is accused of being soft on crime and anti-victim in order to promote a social welfare version of justice with less prison time. This is at odds with strict California laws, such as the “three strikes” law, that lock up criminals for life after a third violent felony conviction.
A new campaign formed on Jan. 31 with a small army tasked with collecting 567,000 signatures, which is 10% of the voters who ushered Gascon into office. Organizers then collected an extra 150,000 signatures to account for any errors, such as duplicates or nonregistered voters.
The cushion is standard in recalls, but what sets this campaign apart is an extra verification against voter registration lists that weeded out any mistakes before they got to county offices, said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a recall supporter.
The numbers appear overwhelming in favor of a recall, and both Zine and Villanueva say they are optimistic that Gascon’s days are numbered.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that the people are going to vote overwhelmingly to oust Gascon just because of his lack of concern for victims of crime, murder, robbery, rape, or whatever,” Zine said. “He doesn’t believe that prosecutions are important. He has this philosophy that does not deal with reality.”
For his part, Gascon has labeled the recall a Republican effort, although organizers say more Democrats are involved than Republicans. For instance, the city of Beverly Hills, which is 71% Democratic, is supporting the recall.
“While it is true there are some victims out there and they are angry, the reality is that this is a Republican power grab and the way they’ve gotten the signatures is extremely questionable,” Gascon told Courthouse News Service.
Next step for the recall
Now that the county has the signatures, what happens? An official told the Washington Examiner that more than 150 workers have been assigned the task of counting and verifying the signatures. The county has the option of looking at every signature or just taking a 5% sample and determining the outcome that way.
The results must be compiled within 30 working days. The Board of Supervisors then has 14 days to set an election date, which must happen within between 88 and 125 days. This time period would fall within the November general election.
If the date is not set in November, a special election would be called, and the chance of a recall would rise because turnout would be lower and those more motivated to vote are against Gascon, Villanueva said.
The board has been supportive of Gascon, Villanueva added.
“They are turning a total blind eye to him — his department is in disarray, there is a mass exodus of personnel, and cases are not being filed that should,” Villanueva said. “The best-case scenario they have to keep him is to put this on the November ballot.”
While recall elections traditionally have had a low propensity for success, that mold appears to have been broken with far-left office holders in San Francisco. District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who has policies similar to Gascon, was recalled last month.
And before that, three school board members were ousted for refusing to reopen classrooms after the COVID-19 pandemic waned. Instead, board members busied themselves with stripping perceived racist names from schools, such as Abraham Lincoln.
“I think the county will try every trick in the book to try and keep Gascon in office,” Villanueva said. “But there are a lot of eyes looking at this.”