'Dump Denham' recall campaign ramps up

MERCED -- The Dump Denham movement has just gained a little more "mo."

Recall petitions against state Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced, are ready to be passed around his district after being cleared Thursday by the secretary of state's office.

Momentum in the California Democratic Party is accelerating in its effort to recall Denham, even though the budget deadlock that triggered the effort ended in August.

Recall backers have until Feb. 13 to collect 31,084 signatures in order to send the matter to the district's voters in Merced, Stanislaus, Madera and San Benito counties. It could be on the June 3 primary ballot if the party is successful.

Party spokesman Bob Mullholland remained mum on details about how the effort would move forward, including how much money would be pumped into ousting the elected leader.

"Like (football quarterbacks) we don't release the plays before the game," Mullholland said. "My guess is Denham won't be taking any weekends off."

Denham's unwavering stance for a balanced budget last month sparked the recall effort, which began with Democrats launching a Web site and buying $11,000 worth of "Dump Denham" signs that popped up around his district last month.

The 40-year-old senator, who plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2010, responded with a "Join With Jeff" Web site and television and radio ads defending his position.

The ads were produced by JohnsonClark Associates, a Sacramento political consultant. "You don't dismiss anything, regardless of how ludicrous it is," said President Wayne Johnson.

There's not much support to recall Denham, who was re-elected by a landslide in November, Johnson asserted, adding that he doesn't know how long or how fervently the Democrats will pursue their quest.

Denham formally responded to the effort last month -- part of the recall process -- saying that the effort is backed by Sacra-mento's special interests because he supports a balanced budget. "As your senator, I have been proud to fight for you," he wrote.

He was unavailable for comment Thursday because he was on the Senate floor.

The second-term senator refused to vote for a $145 billion financial plan until $700 million was cut because it was irresponsible spending, he said. Some political analysts saw his protests as a way to become the darling of the Republican Party, which will be key to his political future since he's termed out in the state Senate.

Meantime, opponents accused him of breaking campaign promises to fix Highway 99, repair levees and fund schools because those projects are paid for by the budget he refused to adopt.

It passed without Denham's endorsement and was signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger two weeks ago.

Winton Democrat Debra Sullivan, 53, signed the first petition needed to start the process last month. She said Denham has become an ineffective leader, and she voted against party lines because she believed he'd improve the highway and other roads.