How a Temecula school board recall election would work — if it happens – Press Enterprise
Motivation and coffee flowed in Temecula’s Meadows Park one morning.
The park served as a staging point for volunteers opposed to three Temecula Valley Unified School District trustees. Working in morning and afternoon shifts, they fanned out with clipboards, petitions and pens Saturday, Oct. 21, to gather voter signatures needed to put a recall of one, two or all three board members on the March 2024 ballot.
These grassroots efforts will be critical to the effort to oust Danny Gonzalez, Joseph Komrosky and Jen Wiersma, say several political consultants who aren’t affiliated with the recall effort or those opposing it.
Since taking office in December, the conservative majority’s actions, from banning critical race theory to requiring parents to be told if their child identifies as transgender, have divided the community.
Recall supporters accuse Gonzalez, Komrosky and Wiersma of trying to dismantle public education and promoting a discriminatory Christian nationalist agenda. The board majority’s actions not only waste taxpayer dollars on culture wars, but threaten property values by sullying the school district’s stellar reputation, they argue.
The majority’s supporters describe the recall as an attempt by the teachers’ union and left-wing radicals to overturn the voters’ will. Gonzalez, Komrosky and Wiersma are doing their jobs by standing up for parents’ rights and taking on pornography and political indoctrination in classrooms, supporters say.
While motivation is key, it’s not enough to guarantee the recall’s success, political consultants said.
“I’ve seen more (recalls) fail than I have succeed — in fact, by a very large margin,” said Anne Dunsmore, a veteran Republican political strategist who was campaign manager for Rescue California, which supported the 2021 attempted recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Getting enough signatures to secure recall elections for all three board members “would be like a seismic earthquake,” said Democratic political consultant Dan Rottenstreich. Just getting one recall on the ballot “would still be a really impressive accomplishment,” he added.
Led by One Temecula Valley PAC, which describes itself as opposed to political extremism in local government, the recall campaign officially started gathering signatures Aug. 11. It has until Dec. 8 to gather signatures equal to 20% of the registered voters in each board members’ trustee area.
For Gonzalez, it’s 4,392 signatures. For Komrosky, it’s 4,280 and for Wiersma, they need 3,987. That comes out to 12,659 signatures — 105 a day from Aug. 11 — to recall all three.
Only registered voters living in a targeted trustee’s district can sign a petition. Once signatures are turned in, the Riverside County Registrar of Voters will verify them and throw out any that aren’t valid, meaning organizers will likely have to gather more signatures than what’s required to have a buffer.
Recall elections would cost $77,500 for Gonzalez, $75,000 for Komrosky and $71,000 for Wiersma, according to the county elections office.
If a recall qualifies for the March 5, 2024 primary ballot, voters would be asked if the board member should be recalled, which would happen if a simple majority — 50% plus one — votes yes.
That’s different from past years, when voters also would be asked to pick a replacement if an elected official is recalled. Changes to California law following the Newsom recall did away with the second question.
If a board member is recalled, he or she is removed from office immediately. After that, the remaining trustees can either call for a special election or appoint someone to fill the vacancy.
Asked how signature gathering is going, One Temecula Valley PAC co-founder Jeff Pack said via email that his group is “on schedule” to collect enough signatures against Komrosky by mid-November.
Signatures are being collected in all three of the targeted trustees’ districts, Pack added. He declined to provide further details.
To promote the recall, organizers set up a website — www.recallall3.org — and use social media to make the case for a recall and to coordinate signature-gathering efforts. A truck emblazoned with pro-recall advertising drives around Temecula, where pro-recall signs dot lawns throughout the city.
Recall opponents also are organized. They have their own lawn signs and a website — keepall3.com — that shows people how to withdraw their signatures from recall petitions.
Gonzalez, Komrosky and Wiersma did not respond to requests for comment.
“It has been disappointing to hear that those in support of the recall have resorted to lies in an effort to obtain signatures,” 412 Church Temecula Valley Pastor Tim Thompson, a leader in the campaign to elect Gonzalez, Komrosky, Wiersma, said via email. “It shows how desperate they must be.”
Thompson added: “We are having in-home meetings with people in an effort to share the truth with them. Our efforts are met with an overwhelming sense that we are on the winning side of this issue.”
“In the end, I think we will see that this conservative Temecula Valley is, and will remain just that — conservative.”
Dunsmore said recall organizers face a challenge from distracted voters who might not have Temecula’s school board foremost on their minds.
“I think what you’re looking at right now is people are watching something else,” she said. “They’re watching the war in the Middle East. They’re dealing with creeping costs of living … There’s going be five other things in front of this” and they won’t sign the petition.
Pursuing the recall requires “extraordinary motivation and attention to detail,” political strategist Brian VanRiper said via email.
“The actions and behaviors taking place in Temecula will create the environment where a citizens grassroots recall effort is possible if executed properly,” he said. “This means executing the many details required on the petition, building in extra signatures because inherently you will have doubles, persons not registered to properly vote, etc.”
VanRiper added: “This Temecula (recall) effort is unique in that it’s pursuing three separate districts concurrently, with one being a heavy lift all on its own.”
Rottenstreich said he reviewed One Temecula Valley PAC’s campaign finances.
“It was really like a lot of small dollar contributions — super local. I think almost every donor I saw was from Temecula,” he said.
“So what it looks (like) to me, what they’re trying to do is to do this the grassroots way, the old-fashioned way,” he said. “That takes people. It takes sweat. It takes elbow grease … You have to recruit volunteers. You’ve got to get them mobilized and this group doesn’t have a massive amount of resources.”
A successful recall campaign needs “resources or a truly explosive issue that the community is pushing back against,” Rottenstreich said.
“Otherwise … whether it’s a small or a large jurisdiction, you can’t get the energy together to qualify for the ballot. But if it does qualify, then all of a sudden, I think it’s a whole different story.”
Having just one question — to recall or not — on the ballot hurts incumbents, Rottenstreich said. Without potential replacements on the ballot to compare and contrast with incumbents, “it really truly becomes a referendum on the school board’s leadership,” he said.
To defeat the recall, opponents need to make it a partisan fight, Rottenstreich said.
“If they can create some foil, even if it’s completely imaginary (or) fantasy, that some liberal Democrat (wants to) take over the school board, that is the terrain they want to fight on,” he said. If the recall becomes “do you want these people running our children’s schools, I think that would be very difficult for them.”
Under no circumstances should the recall effort turn to paid signature gatherers, Dunsmore said.
“There’s a whole carnival of bad behavior around that industry and I would say don’t do it,” she said.
The recall campaign isn’t paying people to gather signatures, Pack said.
“That nice lady holding a clipboard? That’s someone’s mom or grandma that wants to make things right in our school district once again,” he added.
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