OAKLAND – Conservative talk show host Larry Elder was reinstated in California’s eleventh hour recall election on Wednesday after a judge found he had complied with polling requirements and the leader of the State elections should not have required that candidates provide five years of tax returns.
At issue, the tax returns that Elder had submitted to California election officials in his attempt to replace Governor Gavin Newsom. Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s office said documents shared by Elder were incorrectly redacted. Elder went to court to retaliate, and his case landed before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Laurie Earl just hours before Weber was set to certify the final list of candidates.
On Wednesday evening, Weber released the certified list with 46 recall candidates, five more than the chief electoral officer announced on Saturday. The official ground is notably absent from an establishment Democrat and lacks the star power of the 2003 recall that led Arnold Schwarzenegger to become governor.
Elder’s court victory paved the way for the reinstatement of at least two other candidates. That’s because the judge rejected Weber’s interpretation of a 2019 state law that requires gubernatorial candidates to release income tax returns in a “direct primary election.”
“I didn’t find that Mr. Elder was required to file tax returns at all,” Earl said.
The upcoming recall election is a special competition, not a direct primary. Nonetheless, Weber determined that the law should apply this time around because it was intended to allow the public to vet gubernatorial candidates. Newsom’s campaign team claimed a similar interpretation in May when it gave reporters 90 minutes to review the governor’s 2019 tax returns.
It was not immediately clear whether the move would lead to the reinstatement of additional candidates, or whether tax documents for the recall candidates would remain on the Secretary of State’s website. Weber’s office said it should respond later when asked how many callback candidates have been blocked solely by their failure to meet the tax filing requirement.
While Elder was one of the last Republican contenders to enter Newsom’s recall race, he quickly gained national attention and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. This good start demonstrated his pre-existing base and broad name recognition, but Elder risked having to pay back the money if he got stuck in the ballot.
Dozens of candidates will be on the ballot when California voters decide Newsom’s fate on September 14 and via mail-in ballots the month before. Top Republican candidates include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, 2018 Newsom businessman and opponent John Cox, former Rep. Doug Ose, former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and member of the Kevin Kiley Assembly.
Voters will be asked two questions: whether to recall Newsom and who should replace him. If a majority chooses to keep Newsom on the first question, the result of the second question becomes moot.
Elder’s trial was not the only last-minute legal skirmish over the ballot. Faulconer also went to court to have his official designation on the ballot be “retired mayor of San Diego” after Weber’s office rejected his request to be labeled “former mayor of San Diego.” The court dismissed Faulconer on Wednesday.