Orrin Heatlie, the Lead Behind Newsom’s Recall, Has the Coronavirus

Orrin Heatlie, who along with a small group of Tea Party activists began circulating petitions for the governor’s recall in 2019, said he was recovering at home from the virus.,

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The lead proponent of Newsom’s recall has been sidelined with the coronavirus.

Orrin Heatlie at his home in Folsom, Calif., in February.
Orrin Heatlie at his home in Folsom, Calif., in February.Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times
  • Sept. 7, 2021Updated 12:30 p.m. ET

As the pandemic-fueled campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California heads into its last week, its lead proponent said he has been sidelined with the coronavirus.

Orrin Heatlie, 52, a retired Republican sheriff’s sergeant from Yolo County, said he was at home recovering from a bout of the coronavirus.

“Thought I was immune as I’ve had it before,” Mr. Heatlie said in a text message, adding that he is unvaccinated. “Then spent 13 hours in a warm truck traveling back from Wyoming with a friend who came down with it on the trip.”

The pandemic has played a major role in fueling the recall, which had been regarded as a long shot when Mr. Heatlie and a small group of grass-roots Tea Party activists began circulating petitions in 2019.

Their initial complaint with the governor arose from his stances on the death penalty and immigration, which they disagreed with. But when Mr. Newsom initiated stay-at-home orders, classroom closures and other health restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, recall supporters added those upheavals to their list of grievances against him.

In November, a judge granted them an extension to continue circulating petitions because Mr. Newsom’s health orders had made it harder to gather signatures. That extension allowed Mr. Heatlie’s group to gather the nearly 1.5 million signatures required to bring the proposed recall to a vote — an effort that was helped along when a maskless Mr. Newsom was seen dining at an exclusive restaurant with friends, after he had asked Californians to stay home to avoid spreading the virus.

Throughout the campaign, the recall supporters have blasted the governor’s mandates to get vaccinated, socially distance and wear face masks. Mr. Heatlie said his wife, who is vaccinated, had caught the virus from him.

The acknowledgment came as coronavirus cases, which are surging in other parts of the country, have plateaued in California, which now has some of the nation’s highest vaccination rates. This week, Mr. Newsom, ahead in the polls, released a new ad warning Californians that Republicans backing the recall will “eliminate vaccine mandates,” and endanger the state’s recovery.

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