California Governor Gavin Newsom is facing a possible recall election as the state's residents experience a steep rise in COVID-19 cases, along with a depressed economy.
The only other time a California governor faced a recall, was in 2003 when Gray Davis was voted out and replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. At first glance, the situation now is very different from 2003. Davis had narrowly won re-election yet was largely unpopular. By comparison, Newsom was elected in 2018 by the largest margin in California since 1950. The situations are similar in that the 2020 recall campaign has started to tap into a vein of discontent that Californians were also feeling in 2003.
Public reaction to recent events has caught California Democrats off guard. They did not expect people to rebel against restrictions that have closed businesses and schools, implemented overnight curfews, limited family events, and religious gatherings. Indeed, Newsom was praised in the Spring when he became the first Governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order. It was the unrelenting effects of such a harsh measure, however, that inflamed public angst.
Outrage built when the governor was caught dining with friends at the ritzy French Laundry restaurant while telling the state’s residents to eschew social gatherings and stay home. Photos showed Newsom not wearing a mask at the restaurant where a white truffle and caviar dinner costs $1,200 per person.
Organizers of the recall say they have collected more than half the nearly 1.5 million petition signatures needed to get the recall on the ballot. They have until mid-March to reach that amount.
Randy Economy, a senior adviser to the recall effort, said there was a surge of several hundred thousand petition signatures after the restaurant debacle. “It has resonated. It’s about the arrogance of power,” he remarked.
Despite Newsom's apology for not following his own restrictions, people remained critical. Ray Appleton, from KMJ-AM radio in Fresno, said Newsom’s “smugness was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s like someone just threw the switch and said, ‘There it is, we’re going to get this guy.’ ”
Meanwhile, large companies are moving to more business-friendly states. Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and Tesla all announced they are moving to Texas. State unemployment levels have accelerated. At the same time, the state financially supports illegal immigrants, through public services, and Newsom has proposed direct payments to those in the country illegally.
One-third of the state’s restaurants are expected to either permanently close or downsize by shutting some locations due to the restrictions, the California Restaurant Association reports.
California also released thousands of potentially dangerous criminals from prisons across the state in response to the pandemic. No-cash bail policies mean criminals are back on the street quickly and free to re-offend. According to a KWSB-TV report, of those who remained incarcerated, some of them duped the state out of as much as $1 billion in unemployment benefits this year. Newsom has also been criticized for his moratorium on the death penalty.
As expressed by the surge on the recall petition, Californians are increasingly unhappy. Newsom’s closest advisers have acknowledged this. Politico reported that Newsom's team is concerned about the momentum that is building among conservative Californians, describing it as a "major threat" if enough financial support is garnered. Even liberal Californians are growing weary of Newsom's policies.
To refresh his image, CBS local news reported that Newsom has hired veteran capitol insider Jim DeBoo as senior adviser to help him repair broken relationships with legislators by bringing better political instincts to his team. Newsom also appointed Dee Dee Myers, a former Warner Bros. executive and White House press secretary for President Bill Clinton, to be director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.
Politico also reported that the potential for a recall election could also increase the chances he picks long-time friend and Secretary of State Alex Padilla to fill the U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated by Kamala Harris. Uncertainty in the state could be alleviated if Newsom had someone in Washington D.C. to advocate for his priorities, like securing federal funds for the virus and wildfires.
To presage a recall election, the campaign needs to collect voter signatures equal to 12 percent of the total ballots cast in the most recent gubernatorial election—in this case, 1.5 million votes. Under the normal election calendar, which allows 160 days to gather signatures, the effort would already be over. Last month, however, a Sacramento judge gave recall proponents an additional 120 days (mid-March) citing the challenges of circulating voter petitions under California’s coronavirus restrictions.
Recall organizer Orrin Heatlie, a retired county sheriff’s sergeant, predicts they will gather the needed signatures, but says an infusion of cash would help. He referred to the boost in momentum during 2003 after Rep. Darrell Issa, a wealthy former businessman in the car-alarm industry, put $1.7 million into that campaign to get Davis recalled.
This year, the organizers estimate they need $2.8 million to hire professionals to gather another 800,000 signatures, at a price of $3.50 each.
Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Newsom’s 2018 rival John Cox, have come forward as potential opponents on the Republican side.