SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Democratic lawmakers voted Thursday to change the rules governing recall elections in an effort to save one of their own members, despite protests by Republicans that the move amounts to “blatant electioneering.”

The changes would give people time to rescind their signatures from recall positions and let lawmakers weigh in on potential costs of holding a recall election. It could delay recall election efforts by more than two months.

Democratic Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton is facing a recall effort over his vote to increase the gasoline tax earlier this year. Democrats charge the backers of the recall are misleading voters to believe the recall will repeal the tax increase. If Newman is successfully recalled, Democrats will lose their Senate supermajority.

“We’ve reached a new level of deception and opportunism in the signature gathering process,” said Sen. Bill Monning, a Democrat from Carmel. “The reform effort today seeks to restore integrity to this process… because the stakes are so very high and it affects the integrity and composition of this house.”

Carl DeMaio, the radio talk show host behind the recall, has denied that the recall campaign is deceiving voters. Republican lawmakers on Thursday decried the changes. It takes roughly 60,000 signatures to trigger a recall election.

The bill “is a direct assault on the will of the voters and an abuse of the budgetary process,” said Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, a Rancho Cucamonga Republican. “This is a clear denial of voting rights under the California constitution.”

Republicans also criticized Democrats for including the provision in a bill that provided money for veteran cemeteries.

Newman narrowly won his district in Orange County, long a stronghold for Republicans. He and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon defended Newman’s record in a Senate debate that turned strikingly personal.

Newman has accomplished more for the district in seven months “than all the senators from Orange County by any objective measure,” de Leon said in a veiled critique of Republicans.

Newman, meanwhile, offered a more blunt criticism of his Republican colleagues’ speeches opposing the bill.

“Listening to some of you today, I can well imagine the joy your parents must have felt as they watched you succeed at debate club,” he said. “I can also imagine the joy some of your classmates must have felt when they punched you in the face.”

The proposed changes would give people who have signed a recall petition 30 days to rescind their signatures after they have been submitted to election officials. It would also give lawmakers an additional 30 days to weigh in on how much a recall election would cost.

The recall organizers are misleading people to believe signing the petition will reverse the gas tax, Senate Democrats say. If a special election to recall Newman occurs, the gas tax would not be on the ballot.

DeMaio said he plans to challenge the proposed rules in court.

“This is an unconstitutional effort to strip California citizens of the right of recalling their politicians,” the former San Diego city councilman said Monday when the proposal was made public. “It is a brazen abuse of power.”

The campaign has collected more than 35,000 signatures, DeMaio said, although they have not been officially verified.

If the recall campaign is successful, the proposed rules are designed to draw out the process long enough so that Newman appears on the June ballot in 2018, rather than in a special election, said Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, an Escondido Republican.

Of more than 160 attempted recalls since 1913, only nine have made it on the ballot, according to the Secretary of State’s office.


AP writer Jonathan J. Cooper in Sacramento contributed to this report.