Former California cop leads GOP dream of Newsom recall

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Orrin Heatlie, the main organizer for the Recall of California Gov. Newsom campaign, poses with a banner before recording a radio program at the KABC radio station studio in Culver City, Calif., Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

FOLSOM, Calif. – Orrin Heatlie was recovering from a back procedure and browsing social media in 2019 when he found a video of California Gov. Gavin Newsom instructing immigrants in the country illegally not to open their doors to law enforcement unless officers had a warrant.

The 52-year-old retired county sheriff's sergeant was incensed, believing Newsom's message was an insult to his profession. It was an unsurprising reaction for a Republican who built a 25-year career in law enforcement.

What Heatlie did next would eventually slingshot the political neophyte to the center of California's political world: He started researching a recall campaign. Twenty-one months later, 2.1 million signatures have been gathered and it's now a near certainty that Californians will choose later this year whether to remove Newsom from office.

Heatlie said his police background gave him the organizational skills to pull off what would be only the second recall election for a governor in state history.

“It wasn’t launched on a wing and a prayer,” Heatlie said during a recent interview with The Associated Press from his home in the Northern California city of Folsom.

He started by joining an existing effort to recall Newsom. He described it as a “training mission" that allowed him to make contacts with people who ultimately would turn into his political operation when he formed his own recall effort.

For months he's been working 12-plus hour days in a silver Airstream camper in his driveway, coordinating volunteers and taking calls. He jokes his family banished him from the house because they were sick of hearing about the recall.

Heatlie lives with his wife and two children — an 18-year-old daughter he describes as a “lovely little socialist" and a 17-year-old son who is more centrist. The children's politics lead to lively family discussions but Heatlie thinks they respect his activism.