LOS ANGELES -- A California judge on Wednesday cleared the way for conservative talk radio host Larry Elder to join the field of candidates for an upcoming recall election aimed at removing Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom from office.
Elder scored a swift court victory in Sacramento, where he challenged a decision by state election officials to block him from the September recall ballot.
In a tweet, Elder wrote, “Victory! My next one will be on Sept. 14 at the ballot box.”
He added: “This isn’t just a victory for me, but a victory for the people of California. And not just those who favor the recall and support me, but all voters, including many who will come to know me.”
Superior Court Judge Laurie M. Earl disagreed with a state decision that Elder failed to meet requirements to run in the election.
Under a new requirement, candidates for California governor must publicly release tax returns for the five most recent years to qualify for the ballot. The rule was passed in an effort by Democrats to force then-President Donald Trump to release his tax returns during the 2020 election. A court struck down the presidential requirement but left it in place for gubernatorial candidates.
But the judge determined the rule didn't apply to recall elections and, even if it did, Elder substantially complied.
"I don’t find that Mr. Elder was required to file tax returns at all," the judge said.
The ruling amounted to a rebuke for Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who was appointed by Newsom in December.
The election in the nation’s most populous state will be a marquee contest with national implications, watched closely as a barometer of the public mood heading toward the 2022 elections, when a closely divided Congress again will be in play.
Elder's court win also will be celebrated by recall organizers who hoped for a large field of prominent candidates to attract voters. When Elder announced his candidacy, he immediately became one of the most recognized Republicans in the race, given his years on talk radio as well as appearances on Fox News and other media.
Elder announced his campaign July 12, but when a preliminary list of candidates was released last week, he wasn't on it. The state argued the tax information he submitted was incomplete, but Elder said he submitted all the required documents and was the target of political “shenanigans” by Democrats loyal to Newsom who didn’t want him on the ballot.
Meanwhile, the field of replacement candidates was set. A certified list released by the state showed 46 hopefuls will appear on the ballot.
The list includes 24 Republicans, nine Democrats, 10 independents, two Green Party members and one Libertarian.
Other Republicans who qualified to run include reality TV personality and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner; businessman John Cox, who was defeated by Newsom in 2018; state lawmaker Kevin Kiley; and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
With the moderate Faulconer, conservatives like Elder and Cox and Libertarian Jeff Hewitt on the ballot, the field is “shaping up as one that will excite every kind of Republican,” said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego. "There's someone for every part of the party.”
However, Democrats and independents “may just see a circus of internet influencers, radio personalities and politicians, and they might just say, ‘Forget about all of them — let's just stick with someone we know,’" Kousser added.
In another court fight Wednesday, Faulconer lost his bid to be listed on the ballot as the “retired San Diego mayor.” He held the job for six years and could not run again in 2020. Instead, he’ll be listed as “businessman/educator,” a backup title his campaign offered.
His campaign accused California elections officials of trying to deceive voters.
“Voters have a right to transparent and accurate information about Mayor Faulconer’s record, and this defies common sense,” spokesman John Burke said.
In a second challenge over ballot language, content creator and candidate Kevin Paffrath lost his court fight to have his nickname “Meet Kevin” listed. Paffrath, a Democrat, argued the nickname is how he is known to most of his 1.7 million followers on YouTube, where he gives financial advice.
Voters in the election will be sent a ballot with two questions: Should Newsom be recalled? And who should replace him? If more than half of voters say “yes” to the first question, then whoever on the list of potential replacements gets the most votes is California's new governor. With numerous candidates and no clear front-runner, it’s possible that someone could win with less than 25% of the votes.
The push to oust the first-term, Democratic governor is largely rooted in frustration with school and business closures during the pandemic that upended daily life for millions of residents.
Ronayne reported from Sacramento.