Denham cries foul in Perata-backed recall effort

denham.JPGSupporters of state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, today claimed the campaign to recall him from office — backed by state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland — broke state election law by using petition signature-gatherers who live outside Denham’s 12th State Senate District. In a Merced news conference this morning, they asked prosecutors and voter registrars in Denham’s district to investigate.

Perhaps this should’ve happened before the more than 60,000 signatures calling for Denham’s recall were certified last month by Secretary of State Debra Bowen, or at least before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger formally set the recall election to coincide with the June 3 state primary?

Perata has pushed the recall in large part because Denham was among Senate Republicans who stonewalled the state budget for about a month last summer. But the policy rationale clearly takes a back seat to the political ramifications: Replacing the Republican Denham with a Democrat would give Senate Democrats the two-thirds majority they need to override gubernatorial vetoes. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Denham’s district, so Perata saw him as the most vulnerable way to tip the balance.

Denhams’ supporters’ news release today notes California Election Code section 11045 requires that “(o)nly registered voters of the electoral jurisdiction of the officer sought to be recalled are qualified to circulate or sign a recall petition for that officer.” Yet, they claim, a review of campaign finance forms filed by the two committees behind the recall show at least 24 of the 56 individuals who were paid to gather for signature gathering live elsewhere; $79,885, or 64 percent of the itemized payments reported thus far to signature gatherers, have been made to individuals living outside Denham’s district.

They also claim their review of the other 32 individuals listed as paid signature gatherers found two registered to vote at the same non-existent address in Atwater, and two more registered at different hotels in the district. They cite California Election Code section 2021(b), which states, “A person does not gain a domicile in any precinct into which he or she comes for temporary purposes merely, without the intention of making that precinct his or her home.”

“Throughout the recall campaign there have been numerous reports of suspicious conduct by paid signature gatherers who not only misrepresented Jeff Denham’s record, but lied about the very petitions they asked voters to sign,” anti-recall campaign spokesman Kevin Spillane said in a release. “It has been reported back to us that some voters were being told the recall forms were actually a petition for widening Highway 99. Also — in several cases, the signature gatherers admitted to voters that they lived at locations outside the 12th District — in violation of California election law.”

It’s “clear that California election law has been systematically violated by Senator Don Perata’s political operation,” Spillane claimed. “Under California law, our campaign is not allowed access to the petitions and other relevant records. We have taken our research as far as we can. Now we respectfully request that local authorities do their jobs and pursue this matter.”

Dump Denham campaign spokesman Paul Hefner said this is a load of tripe, just as it was when Denham supporters first complained about it several months ago.

“We abided by the rules, that’s why the recall was certified,” he said. “The simple fact of the matter is, Jeff Denham wants this to be about anything other than his record… and that the voters of his district are desperate to get rid of him.”

Denham’s anti-recall campaign has posted to its Web site, via YouTube, several surreptitious recordings of an operative talking to petition signature-gatherers. But Hefner said those’ve been up there for months, aren’t so scandalous, and mean only that “Denham’s got a lot of explaining to do for why he feels the need to go out and do surveillance on his own constituents.”

What did I learn listening to these recordings?

  • Some of the petition gatherers might not live in Denham’s district; at least one doesn’t seem to care whether the signer does, either.
  • Some of the petition gatherers seem to barely even know what the petitions are about.
  • The guy making the recordings loves to party with the ladies in Detroit.
  • Really, this seems to me like an indictment of California’s overall petition signature-gathering process — having uninformed people who’re paid like paperboys serve as gatekeepers to our democracy is a recipe for disaster no matter what the issue. But then again, I hate the ballot-measure process anyway; I think we should elect our representatives to legislate for us, and if we’re not happy with ’em, we shouldn’t re-elect ’em.

    Listen to the recordings yourself, after the jump…

    Josh Richman

    Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.