The Scramble for Fullerton Recall Seats Ends Tonight

Artist's rendition.

Because I’ve  been waiting to see whether Fullerton Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva really would jump into the race against Chris Norby, I haven’t written yet about who would be running in the “replacement” portion of the Fullerton Recall election.  (Per the City’s Recall FAQ: first, the ballots will ask separately whether each incumbents should be recalled; after the question for each incumbent, the ballot will ask who, if they are recalled, should replace them.  In the latter contest, whoever has the plurality wins.)  As the guessing game ends tonight, I’d better get on the stick.

The usual disclaimers, such as that I’m a member of (but do not speak for) the county Democratic Party E-Board, apply.  Here’s a new one for the occasion: I recruited Paula Williams to run in AD-65 and was one of many encouraging her, when Quick-Silva started thinking about making the switch, to turn to the recall election if need be.

The main thing to know, the day before the election, is this: while at least a dozen names have been seriously discussed as candidates in the recall, only five have filed as of the day before the deadline.  The reason that matters so much is that this isn’t a race where there is a mad all-against-all dash to the finish line.  Instead, one has to pick out which incumbent one wants to replace.  That means that one incumbent could have more or stronger potential replacements; another could have fewer or weaker.  This in turn may play a role in whether someone is recalled.  (Exactly what that role would be, as noted below, is not quite clear.)

At one point, it made sense to think about the Fullerton recall in terms of four or five “slates” of candidates — though the fiercely independent candidates I’ve spoken to reject that kind of talk.  Now — well, it’s not clear what to think, with so many playing their cards so close to the vest.

First, of course, there are the incumbents — who will campaign, but who can’t “replace themselves” if voted out, even if they get more votes than their top challenger.

Second, there could be the establishment Republicans — the Ackermanites, if you will.  One strategy might be to keep out of the race altogether, so as to push voters to keep the incumbents in place.  But if the recall is successful for any candidate (or for all of them), do the Ackermanites really want to hand the seat over to another party or faction?  Couple that with establishment Republicans who may think that it’s high time for a changing of the guard, and it would be sort of surprising if establishment Republicans didn’t run.

Third, we have the insurgent Republicans — call them the libertarian Bushalans.  This group, coalesced around the Friends for Fullerton’s Future website, has been loudest about the recall from the outset.  The mystery of where one of them would land has now been solved; now the question is in what races others land (and perhaps whether some of them land at all.)

Fourth, we have the Democrats.  At first, there was just Glenn Georgieff, and whispers about a possible return of Doug Chaffee, who lost the election for the third seat to Pat McKinley by one vote.  But Chaffee wouldn’t announce, and when Quirk-Silva shifted to AD-65, Paula Williams, who had planned to run against Norby, switched to City Council.  This created a little bit of a problem when Chaffee finally decided to get it: four progressives for three seats.

And that brings us to the fifth group: Others.  The most prominent of these is Jane Rands, a Green Party candidate for state Assembly in the past and a well-known figure in the Kelly Thomas protests.  She has some support from Democrats, but also support from the Bushalans, who appreciate her anti-establishment stance.  In fact, I would have said that she was a de facto Bushala candidate except for Thursday’s big surprise.

Rands and Bushalan-slate candidate Greg Sebourn had both taken out papers for all three races.  The expectation of everyone I spoke to was that, as comrades-in-arms during the Kelly Thomas protests — they would not run against each other.  Rands filed for Bankhead’s seat on Wednesday, which would have seemed to direct Sebourn to Pat McKinley’s seat, to run against Chaffee.  And yesterday Sebourn filed against … Bankhead!  And, therefore, Rands.

Sebourn may have been trying to avoid Chaffee (who hasn’t yet filed.)  Or, he may have intended to run against Rands all along and didn’t tell her.  But it’s possible that the entrance of Williams and Chaffee into the race influenced his choice: with Chaffee set up against McKinley, that moved Williams to run against Rands for the Bankhead seat.  Rands and Williams are the two most progressive candidates in the race; Sebourn may have figured that this seat was easier pickings.

Here’s the problem, though.  Democrats and establishment Republicans may well vote for their candidates in the second question for the Bankhead seat, but if Sebourn looks likely to win via a split ballot then Democrats may well join establishment Republicans in voting no on the recall itself, saving Bankhead’s seat.  Sebourn could end up with a strong plurality as the progressives split the vote — but no open seat to occupy.

So far, only Rands, Sebourn, and Georgieff of the above have turned in their papers to run.  The two other candidates who have field are Roberta Reid, for Jones’s seat, and Matthew Rowe, the sole challenger on the ballot as of dawn today for McKinley’s seat.  A very respectable piece in GOP blog organ OC Political says that both are No Party Preference” (or “NPP”); Reid is a student and from his ballot statement Rowe is probably an engineer.  Both seem to belong in the “other” category.  I elaborate on their findings with other information I’ve been given.

As of yesterday morning, the rest of the names in each of the four non-incumbent “slates” seemed to look like this (candidates in bold have filed for a seat; candidates in italics have announced a seat; candidates in plainface, neither):

Presumed Ackermanites: Rick Alvarez (?, GOP), David DeLeon (?, GOP)
Bushalans: Sebourn (Bankhead); Travis Kiger (announced for Jones); Barry Levinson (presumably McKinley, if he runs)
Democrats: Williams (Bankhead); Georgieff (Jones); Chaffee (McKinley); [Matthew Hakim (Jones)]
Others: Rands (Bankhead); Reid (Jones); Rowe (McKinley); Richard Albarran (?, NPP);

The six names we haven’t discussed above are:

Planning Commissioner Kiger and Parks & Rec Commissioner Levinson, both of the Bushalan persuasion; Transportation Commissioner Alvarez; former candidate DeLeon; Democrat Hakim; and NPP Albarran.

So plotting things out, the races seem to be shaping up this way:

Bankhead seat: Sebourn (Bushalan), Williams (Democrat), Rands (Green)
Jones seat: Kiger (Bushalan), Georgieff (Democrat), Reid (NPP)
McKinley seat: Levinson (Bushalan), Chaffee (Democrat), Rowe (NPP)

I’m going to step out on a limb and guess that Albarran and Hakim aren’t going to matter much, if they file at all.  So the real question is: where do Alvarez (whom people seem to think has a lot of pull) and DeLeon (less so) go?

Let’s say that they go nowhere, they don’t even file.  What happens in their absence?  Here, lets assume that there will be three voting blocs in Fullerton: Ackermanite, Bushalan, and progressive (Dem/Green).  I’m going to guess that, once you break up the Republican Party, in a primary with only a Republican Presidential contest, they’re all fairly even.

Establishment Republicans vote “no” on recalling Bankhead; insurgents vote “yes.”  My prediction is that Democrats, sensing a Sebourn win, also vote “no” on recalling Bankhead.  Sebourn wins the plurality, but Bankhead is retained.

Establishment Republicans vote “no” on recalling Jones; insurgents vote “yes.”  My prediction is that many Democrats are still not convinced enough that Georgieff beats Kiger to vote yes.  But maybe some are — Kiger gets the plurality (given GOP Presidential turnout) and maybe the seat.  More likely, Jones is retained.

Establishment Republicans vote “no” on recalling McKinley; insurgents vote “yes.”  Democrats, correctly thinking that Chaffee has an advantage over Levinson, also vote “yes.”  Chaffee replaces McKinley; the recount of 2010 is overturned.

Now let’s put aside DeLeon and the others except for Alvarez.  What happens when you add Alvarez to each of these races?

For Bankhead’s seat, I don’t think it makes a difference.  Alvarez splits the Republican vote with Sebourn, maybe beats him, with Rands maybe taking some of his libertarian vote.  Are Dems convinced enough that Williams is able to squeak through in between probably the two strongest Republicans in the race, when she’s splitting the progressive vote with Rands?  Probably not, though Williams establishes herself for November.  Bankhead still gets retained.

If Alvarez runs for Jones’s seat, I think that it does knock off Jones.  Again, establishment Republicans vote no and Insurgent Republicans vote yes, but here I think that Dems decide that Georgieff can squeak through between Kiger and Alvarez as they split the GOP vote, so they recall Jones as well.  Who wins the plurality?  That will be the race to watch.  I won’t even guess.

What if Alvarez runs for McKinley’s seat?  Here, Dems might be tempted to vote no, but unless Levinson is looking good I think they vote yes.  Democrats have little reason to prefer McKinley to Alvarez, so they take a chance on Chaffee winning — and his odds go up here — and if Alvarez wins, not much is lost.

The recall strategy seems to be predicated on the idea that Democrats (and independents, of course) will vote to get rid of the incumbents, but outside of activist circles I think that there’s more fear of Bushalan candidates than desire to see a Democrat (maybe other than Chaffee) win.  Ironically, had Sebourn chosen a race where he had stronger competition, enough to lure Democrats into supporting recall of the incumbent,  he might have made it more likely that the winner of that race would actually replace the incumbent.

Then again, campaign money is going to matter — and maybe enough so to overwhelm any such analysis as I offer above.  But what’s the fun in that simple a basis for predicting the outcome of the recall?

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)