OAKLAND — Conservative talk show host Larry Elder was reinstated in California’s recall election at the eleventh hour Wednesday after a judge found he complied with ballot requirements and the state elections chief shouldn’t have demanded that candidates provide five years of tax returns.
At issue were the tax filings Elder had submitted to California elections officials in his bid to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom. Secretary of State Shirley Weber’s office said the documents Elder shared were improperly redacted. Elder went to court to fight back, and his case landed in front of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Laurie Earl just hours before Weber was set to certify the final list of candidates.
Late Wednesday, Weber issued the certified list with 46 recall candidates, five more than the elections chief announced Saturday. The official field is notably absent of an establishment Democrat and lacks the star power of the 2003 recall that led to Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming governor.
Elder’s court win paved the way for at least two other candidates to be reinstated. That’s because the judge rejected Weber’s interpretation of a 2019 state law that compels gubernatorial candidates to release tax returns in a “direct primary election.”
“I don’t find that Mr. Elder was required to file tax returns at all,” Earl said.
The upcoming recall election is a special contest, not a direct primary. Nevertheless, Weber determined that the law should apply this time because it was intended to allow the public to vet gubernatorial hopefuls. Newsom’s campaign team asserted 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 that ruling will lead to additional candidates being reinstated, nor whether the tax documents for recall candidates would remain on the secretary of state’s website. Weber’s office said it would have to respond later when asked how many recall candidates were stymied solely by their lack of compliance with the tax return requirement.
While Elder was one of the last Republican contenders to jump into the Newsom recall race, he quickly attracted national attention and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. That strong start demonstrated his preexisting base and wide name recognition, but Elder was at risk of having to refund the money if he was blocked from the ballot.
Dozens of candidates will be on the ballot when California voters decide Newsom’s fate on Sept. 14 and via mail ballots in the preceding month. Among the top Republican contenders are former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman and Newsom’s 2018 opponent John Cox, former Rep. Doug Ose, former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and Assemblymember Kevin Kiley.
Voters will be asked two questions: whether to recall Newsom and who should replace him. If a majority choose to keep Newsom on the first question, the second question’s outcome becomes moot.
Elder’s court case wasn’t the only last-minute legal skirmish over the ballot. Faulconer also went to court to have his official ballot designation be “retired San Diego mayor” after Weber’s office denied his request to be labeled “former San Diego Mayor.” The court rejected Faulconer on Wednesday.