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Why recall effort against California Gov. Newsom is not history repeating

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LOS ANGELES — The recall effort against California Gov. Gavin Newsom is already showing signs of turning into another circus like the one that ultimately brought down Gray Davis in 2003.

On Tuesday, Axios reported that Caitlyn Jenner, the former reality star, Olympian and stepparent to the even more famous Kardashian clan, is considering entering the gubernatorial race if a recall petition qualifies for the ballot. NBC has not verified whether Jenner intends to run and she has not publicly announced a decision.

Jenner’s potential candidacy marks the first of what many strategists believe will be a long line of celebrity and novelty candidates that could closely mirror what California voters experienced in 2003 when adult film star Mary Carey, child actor Gary Coleman and “Hustler” publisher Larry Flynt added their names to the a list of more than 100 would-be governors. Action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger ultimately won that election.

Nearly 20 years later, the comparisons stop there.

None of the three Republican contenders who have announced intentions to run for governor have statewide name recognition similar to Schwarzenegger’s. Kevin Faulconer, considered the likely frontrunner as of now, is the former mayor of San Diego and not well known outside of Southern California. Businessman John Cox lost to Newsom in 2018 by double digits and Doug Ose, a former congressman, also briefly ran for governor in 2018 before dropping out of the race, The Associated Press reported.

“The biggest thing Newsom has to do is keep a Democrat from running,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist and former Schwarzenegger spokesman. “So far so good, but it’s also easy right now. We’re in for several months of waiting.”

Recall organizers say they collected more than 2 million signatures, well above the 1.5 million needed to meet the state’s threshold. Counties have until the end of April to verify signatures and report their tallies to state election officials. California’s Finance Department will take about 30 days to produce a cost estimate for the election before a legislative panel reviews the findings. Only then will an election date be set.

If a recall qualifies for the ballot, voters will be asked two questions: The first would be whether they want to recall Newsom and the second would be who should replace him. There is no limit to how many people can run, and whoever gets the most votes wins.

Since Davis was recalled in 2003, the political landscape of California has shifted increasingly to the left. Registered Republican voters accounted for 35 percent of the California electorate in February 2003, according to the California Secretary of State’s office, while this year they account for 24 percent.

By contrast, 44 percent were registered as Democrats in 2003, and this year it’s 46 percent. In 2003, 15 percent declined to state what party they were in, while this year, 24 percent of voters registered under “no party preference.”

“Politically we’re a completely different state than we were in 2003,” Katie Merrill, a Democratic strategist, said on Wednesday during a Facebook Live panel hosted by the Sacramento Press Club. “If you look at the statewide races, the Republican Party has effectively become a third party in California.”

Added Democratic strategist Ace Smith during the panel: “It’s a different time. We’re in a state where frankly there used to be Republicans who used to be somewhat moderate. The Republican party of Trump has lost [its] way.”

Former President Donald Trump, whose name has been repeatedly invoked as a kind of political bogeyman, marks another notable difference between the recall effort against Newsom and the campaign against Davis.

Since the effort to oust Newsom first surfaced, California Democrats have collectively rallied around the notion that the recall campaign is a power grab by Trump loyalists bitter about losing the White House to President Joe Biden.

Last month, Dan Newman, a campaign advisor for Newsom, called the recall campaign “pure partisan politics” while Newsom said white supremacists and right-wing militia groups, including the Proud Boys, are among the recall backers.

“We’re just concerned about violence moving into the future as we move farther and farther away from the January insurrection and we put down our guard. We must remain vigilant about these groups and how serious they are,” Newsom said on MSNBC in March. “All you need is about a quarter of the people who supported Trump to just sign a petition and it appears they’ve done that.”

In 2003, Davis had no such specter to deflect attention away from his office. He was already embroiled in various crises when he won a second term in 2002. Davis had been heavily criticized for reacting too slowly to an energy crisis that knocked out power for more than a million residents across the state between 2000 and 2001. He later apologized for his handling of the situation but the debacle took a toll on his reputation.

Davis won reelection in 2002 with 47 percent of the vote. By 2003, just 27 percent of California voters approved of his job performance, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. The option to recall Davis received 55 percent of the vote.

By contrast, 40 percent of California voters said they would elect to recall Newsom and 79 percent of those respondents self-identified as Republicans, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan research organization. Newsom’s approval rating is also higher than Davis’ was going into a recall. As of last month, Newsom’s approval rating among likely voters is at 53 percent with 42 percent of respondents saying they disapprove of his job performance.

“If no other Democrat gets into the race and it stays like this — the economy is recovering, the coronavirus doesn’t spike again, and all that looks good — then he’s not going to be nearly as unpopular as Davis was,” Stutzman said.

Unlike Davis, whose administration was mired by a $38 billion budget deficit, Newsom boasted of a $15 billion one-time surplus at the beginning of the year, according to his 2021-22 budget proposal. During the pandemic, wealthy Californians made $185 billion in capital gains income, or money earned from the sale of assets, which resulted in $18.5 billion in tax revenue for the state, The Associated Press reported. Because of the surplus, Newsom’s plan would spend $25 billion more than last year.

But record homelessness and joblessness have continued to plague California throughout the pandemic, and now experts are warning that this summer could bring another catastrophic round of fires up and down the state. As residents battle crises on multiple fronts, recall backers say it’s too soon to celebrate victory.

“What a disconnect,” said recall fundraiser Anne Dunsmore. “You got people living on the streets, being flooded out of their tents, and we’re going to brag about a surplus? Go spend it.”

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EU farce: Verhofstadt goes to 'war' as row threatens to derail his future of Europe plans

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SQUABBLING EU chiefs risk collapsing the bloc’s flagship Conference on the Future of Europe unless they can settle their differences.

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Feds may have raided home of wrong woman involved in Capitol riot in search for Pelosi’s laptop

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — “We’re looking for Nancy Pelosi’s laptop,” FBI agents told Marilyn Hueper after briefly handcuffing her.

Hueper shot back: “That still doesn’t explain why you’re in my home. Or in Homer, Alaska.”

The search for the House speaker’s laptop had taken a U.S. Capitol Police officer thousands of miles away from home for an FBI raid on Hueper’s home, looking for something stolen during the Jan. 6 insurrection — and the person who did it.

The agents would walk out of Hueper’s home with iPads, cellphones and a pocket-sized copy of the Declaration of Independence. They took a laptop, but it wasn’t from Pelosi’s office. And it’s possible they may have the wrong person altogether — even though Hueper looks strikingly similar to the thief.

The Justice Department’s massive prosecution of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 has not been without its problems, including this potential instance of mistaken identity. And as Republicans are increasingly seeking to minimize the insurrection and play down the horror of the day, any missteps by federal prosecutors could be used in that effort to discredit what actually happened.

Federal prosecutors have charged more than 400 people, the largest undertaking by the department, including scores of defendants who posted images of their crimes online and boasted about breaking into the hallowed building. Some are facing serious charges and considerable prison time.

Hueper and her husband first came to officials’ attention this year when Alaska Airlines in February banned the couple for refusing to wear masks on a flight, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press. Then two other people called in tips saying they recognized Hueper in photos that authorities had released of suspects wanted for storming the Capitol.

The insurrectionists sought to disrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. Hundreds of officers were injured and five people died after the riot, including a Capitol Police officer.

Supporters of then-President Donald Trump ransacked offices, rifled through lawmakers’ papers and desks, smashed through glass, shattered windows and tore down signs. Among the items stolen: the laptop from Pelosi’s office, her lectern, an iPad belonging to Majority Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn and other electronics.

But the volume of people inside the Capitol building, along with the lack of arrests made at the time of the riot, has made it difficult to identify people, even with the glut of social media evidence. Federal agents have dug through thousands of social media posts, gotten sweeping warrants to obtain information on cellphones in the area of the Capitol, used facial recognition tools and obtained logs of devices that signed into the congressional Wi-Fi during the riot.

But by far the most effective tool for federal agents has been old-fashioned tips. Many of the rioters have been ratted out by their friends and family members.

The warrant, obtained by the AP, identifies Hueper as the woman who took the laptop.

But they’re wrong, Hueper insists. She told the AP that another woman wearing her same coat and with a similar hairstyle was inside the Capitol during the insurrection, not her. She admits she was in Washington, D.C., for Trump’s rally that day but says she didn’t get any closer than 100 yards (91 meters) from the Capitol and spent part of the day being lost in an unfamiliar city.

She said agents showed her one photo of the woman inside the Capitol, and they looked so similar that Hueper wondered if someone had used photo-editing software to put her in the photograph.

The warrant details how FBI agents located an image showing Hueper wearing similar clothing in a photo on her husband’s Instagram account. It said Hueper’s husband had also posted photos of them near the Capitol. “BEST OF 2020,” he wrote in one, showing her from behind nearing the building. “Marilyn approaching the Capital. As Patriots, there is a righteous revolution to take back our country … To be there was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. STOP THE STEAL!”

Hueper said an agent came back with a different and larger photo of the woman, which showed the suspected thief wearing a black sweater with large white snowflakes on it. The agent asked where in the house they could locate the sweater.

Hueper said she reiterated she wasn’t inside the building. “No. 2, why didn’t you show me this photo to start with? Because we can both obviously see here this is a different person.”

Plus, she said, the sweater was hideous.

Hueper said she grabbed the photo and held it next to her face, asking the female agent to look at both closely, “Me. Her. Me. Her,” she told the agent. Hueper said the agent grabbed the paper and walked off.

Both women were wearing black Columbia down coats. However, in a photo posted on her husband’s Facebook page from Jan. 6, Hueper is shown wearing a black face mask, a green blouse open at the collar and a light green scarf. The surveillance video released by the FBI shows the sought-after woman wearing the black sweater with a snowflake print and dangling earrings. Also, the woman in the photo has detached earlobes, while Hueper says hers are attached.

After insisting, Hueper was shown the front page of the warrant but not allowed to thoroughly read the document, she said. She read it only after receiving a copy as the dozen or so agents and Capitol Police officer left.

According to the search warrants, agents could collect any electronics that might be suspected to have been involved, items stolen from the Capitol, a laptop with descriptors and a serial number — “which they didn’t find,” she said — and any paperwork related to planning violence.

Hueper said she has not heard back from federal authorities, nor have agents returned her laptop, two iPads, two cellphones or the 50-cent pocket-sized Declaration of Independence booklet they confiscated April 28.

She has not been arrested. Justice Department officials would say only that the investigation is ongoing.

But she decided to go public with her story, just in case.

“I better go online and protect myself before they call me in and make me this person,” she said.

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Boris facing outrage over plans to give 'amnesty' to IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland

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PLANS to exempt IRA terrorists from legal action in order to stop malicious prosecution of British Army veterans have been met with outrage.

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