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Editorial: Why Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom by Shahriar Afshar

By Shahriar Afshar, Founder & Podcast Host, Politics365.com with Key References: California Budget & Policy Center, Public Policy Institute of California and Ballotpedia

Republicans are trying to recall another California governor! 

Just the Facts Ma’am

A recall election seeking to remove California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will take place on September 14, 2021. The recall election will present voters with two questions. The first will ask whether Newsom should be recalled from the office of governor. The second will ask who should succeed Newsom if he is recalled. A majority vote is required on the first question for the governor to be recalled. The candidate with the most votes on the second question would win the election, no majority required.

Forty-six candidates, including nine Democrats and 24 Republicans, are running in the election. The candidates to receive the most media attention and perform best in polls so far are YouTuber Kevin Paffrath (D), 2018 gubernatorial candidate John Cox (R), radio host Larry Elder (R), former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer (R), former Olympian and television personality Caitlyn Jenner (R), Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R), and former U.S. Rep. Doug Ose (R).

Recall supporters said Newsom mishandled the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, did not do enough to address the state’s homelessness rate, and supported sanctuary city policies and water rationing. In a March 2021 response, Newsom called the effort a “Republican recall — backed by the RNC, anti-mask and anti-vax extremists, and pro-Trump forces who want to overturn the last election and have opposed much of what we have done to fight the pandemic.”

Organizers of the recall campaign submitted 2.1 million signatures by the March 17 filing deadline. The secretary of state’s office found 1,719,943 signatures were valid – more than the 1,495,970 necessary to trigger a recall election. Voters who signed the petition had until June 8 to request removal from the petition. Forty-three signatures were removed, leaving 1,719,900 valid signatures on the petitions.

Newsom was elected as governor in 2018 with 61.9% of the vote. Orrin Heatlie began this recall campaign on June 10, 2020. It was the fifth of six recall petitions filed against Newsom since 2019. Source: Ballotpedia.org 

A History of Recalls

Since 1911, there have been 55 attempts to recall a California governor. The only successful recall campaign was in 2003 when voters recalled then-Gov. Gray Davis (D) for Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) out of 135 candidates who ran to replace Davis at a bargain (special election) cost of $25 million. 

Although no one liked a recall election, Californians can be forgiven for being intrigued with the storied life & times of the seven-time Mr. Olympia winner, Terminator movie star & husband to a Kennedy. Although Arnold ran as a Republican, he never really acted like one so Californians went along, looking at the Terminator as a more exciting alternative to the dry cut Gray Davis. This is California, after all. 

Davis was recalled 11 months after he was elected in November 2002 to a second four-year term as California’s governor. A total of 9.4 million voters cast a ballot on the recall question. The recall, which had its origins in how Davis handled a situation in the state’s electricity industry, was described in December 2009 as the “one event [that] shaped California politics more than any other in the decade. It should be noted that one of the richest men in Congress ($460M in 2021), Republican Congressman Darrell Issa eventually provided most of the funding for the Davis recall petition through a committee that paid Bader & Associates to conduct the signature-gathering drive.

Follow the Money

In 2021, it will cost Californians $276 million to recall another Democratic governor even though we have a $75 billion budget surplus, still recovering from a once in a millennia global pandemic and we have a united legislative front in Sacramento focused on helping Californians get back to work.

This time, we don’t have the Terminator but we have a former Olympian turned Reality TV Star (Caitlyn Jenner) and a Beast (John Cox) from the uppity Rancho Santa Fe Community of San Diego running to replace a California governor.  Jenner is famous but has little to no platform and Cox already ran against Newsom in 2018 and was soundly rejected by Californians 62% to 38%.  Cox has contributed over $5.6 million of his own money to his $6 million war chest while Jenner, famous or not, was only able to muster just under $600,000.

Supporters of the recall have only raised about $4.8 million while opponents of the recall have raised a whopping $42.1 million.  

According to Calmatters, as of Aug 4, 2021, $47.0 million has been raised specifically for the recall election. In the last 30 days alone, the supporters of the recall have only raised $345,000 while opponents of the recall have raised $18.1 million.  So if the voting-donors have anything to say about it, this recall is DOA. 

The GOP Case for the Recall

For this article, I tried to understand the official California Republican Party position on why we should spend $276 million in the middle of a pandemic while experiencing a $75 billion budget surplus, to recall a Democratic governor, if for no other reason than politics. In this effort, I failed. The California GOP website did not have an official statement on its website, rather, a series of circus-like images, insults and Trump-like attacks to infuriate its base, mislead the public and solicit a donation or reaction. 

In fact, the only thing that resembled a policy alternative was the series of loaded & misleading questions that it posed to its visitors, asking if they Strongly Agree, Somewhat, Agree, Somewhat Disagree, Strongly Disagree or my personal favorite: I Don’t Know/I Don’t Care responses. Here are the top ten CA GOP survey questions making their case for a 56th recall election with my rebuttal, following each question. 

CAGOP Survey Questions:

  1. While Governor Newsom mandated Californians to shelter at home, he violated his own safety orders and partied with a dozen friends and lobbyists at the swanky French Laundry restaurant in Napa. Governor Newsom then lied about it until photos were released showing him there. That’s one dinner; not an Executive Order and certainly nothing comparable to the deadly leadership exhibited by Trump, and still emulated to this day by his cult leaders across the country.  Enough said. What’s next? 
  2. Gavin Newsom said homelessness was going to be a top priority, but under his leadership, California has the highest poverty and homeless rates in the nation. Before the pandemic, California had over 150,000 homeless people, accounting for more than 20% of the homeless population in the entire country and California’s homeless crisis now is at record levels.  This is endemic to a fair weathered state and exasperated by the pandemic, but let’s say it’s true.  It is a local issue with state support and if we started recalling every Mayor that failed on homelessness, less start with the leading Republican Mayor running ie. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulkner. 
  3. Six million California students haven’t been able to go to school to learn in person under Governor Newsom’s school lockdowns. Governor Newsom wanted to sound sympathetic by saying quote –“I have four young kids myself. I’ve been living through Zoom school and all the challenges related to it.” But the truth is Governor Newsom’s kids are in private school and have been going to school for in person learning since the fall.  Not sure what the accusation is here or how Newsom benefits from the shutdowns but we are in a global pandemic and by all accounts, Californians led the nation by its quick leadership before more lives were lost to the GOP denials of the Covid Virus. 
  4. Gavin Newsom’s administration is under investigation for sending out over $30 billion dollars in fraudulent unemployment benefits. Even inmates on death row received unemployment checks, while one million Californians with legitimate unemployment claims haven’t received their check. ‘Fraudulent’ is a misleading phrase that is a crime of the individual applicants not the public agency and if by extension, this massive effort to help California’s recover faster is cause for a recall, then there are likely 49 other governors that have done the same. 
  5. Under Gavin Newsom’s extreme lockdowns, more than 19,000 California businesses have closed, and millions of Californians lost their jobs, leaving California with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.  This was too much for all of us but the Governor, given the evolving guidance coming from the Trump Administration in the early months, had to make a choice to either save lives or businesses. He made the right call and has pledged the $75 billion budget surplus to help Californians recover faster. 
  6. While most states have successfully reopened schools safely, Governor Newsom chose the teachers union over parents and students by keeping students locked out of schools, creating a huge burden on parents and hurting students academically. As much as the CA GOP would like to focus on Governor Newsom as the sole decision maker in these shutdowns, it all started with the gross incompetence in the Trump White House. Every state in the country was facing the same issues & decisions and by comparison, California has done far better and recovered faster than any GOP led states. 
  7. More than 2 million Californians have signed a bipartisan petition to recall Governor Gavin Newsom for his failures and controversial policies. However, in an attempt to smear and discredit the bipartisan recall effort, Gavin Newsom has called the Californians who have signed the recall petition quote –“White supremacists and conspiracy theorists.” What is amazing about this question and quote is that while 6 million people voted for Trump in the 2020 election, only 2 million chose to vote for the recall. Why is that? And furthermore, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are dozens of hate groups in California who track this date, there are no less than 839 Hate Groups in its national database with dozens, sadly, based out of California.  So the GOP can tout its misleading Trump base of 2 million that voted for the recall but they can’t deny the 4 million that did not and that there are dozens of documented hate groups in our great state fanning, fueling and misleading Californians with this recall rhetoric. 
  8. While other states across the country have started to return back to normal by finding safe solutions to reopen businesses and schools, California will remain in lockdown for months under Gavin Newsom’s orders despite no scientific evidence that his lockdowns are keeping Californians safer. As usual, the CA GOP is a day late and a dollar short when it comes to facts. California has reopened and if this was an excuse for the recall, I will be pleased to see the CA GOP retract its misleading survey question. So Moody’s Analytics and CNN Business have partnered to create a proprietary Back-to-Normal Index, comprised of 37 national and seven state-level indicators. The index ranges from zero, representing no economic activity, to 100%, representing the economy returning to its pre-pandemic level in March. And California ranks 87% back to normal. 
  9. Despite having nearly a year to prepare, California’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution under Governor Newsom has been disastrous, with at one point California being 43rd in terms of doses administered and the state website for vaccination appointments crashing numerous times, making it difficult for people to get vaccinated and back to their normal lives. As of August 4, 2021, California has distributed 51,110,575 vaccines and administered: 45,383,289 doses. That makes it a 89% distribution rate and ranked 17 in the nation. As of August 4, 2021, new Coronavirus cases are down by 8,418 but with the Delta Variant, it’s not surprising that the most populous state in the country with some 6 million Trump Republicans is slow in recovering from this global pandemic.  
  10. While most other states across the country have found safe and reasonable ways to open churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious centers, Gavin Newsom blocked people from safely gathering to worship, pray, sing, and support each other. No governor would choose to pick on faith-based groups.  When you look at the multiple covid outbreaks that defiant faith leaders caused by inviting worshipers to their facilities, any ‘reasonable person’ can understand why political leaders chose public health and saving lives under the CDC guidelines which desperately urged faith leaders to ‘lead’ and not convene services. Again, this is old news.

What do the People Say? 

I like polls. Sometimes they say something useful and sometimes they are useless. But when you compare several polls over several months, you get an impression of what the mood is and in this case, what Californians think about the recall election over time.  And the numbers don’t lie. A majority of Californians are not in support of the recall.

  • May 11, 2021: Berkeley IGS released a poll finding that 36% of voters supported the recall, 49% opposed the recall, and 15% were undecided.
  • May 26, 2021: The Public Policy Institute of California released a poll finding that 40% of voters supported the recall, 57% opposed the recall, and 3% were undecided.
  • July 22, 2021: Inside California Politics and Emerson College released a poll finding that 43% of voters supported the recall, 48% opposed the recall, and 9% were undecided. Larry Elder led candidate polling at 16% with no other candidate polling higher than 6%, with 53% of respondents undecided.
  • July 27, 2021: Berkeley IGS released a poll finding that 47% of voters supported the recall, 50% opposed the recall, and 3% were undecided. Larry Elder led candidate polling at 18% with no other candidate polling higher than 10%, with 40% of respondents undecided.
  • August 2, 2021: Core Decision Analytics released a poll finding that 39% of voters supported the recall, 48% opposed the recall, and 12% were undecided. Larry Elder led candidate polling at 9% with no other candidate polling higher than 5%, with 34% of respondents undecided and 22% saying they wouldn’t select any of the candidates.

Let’s dig a little deeper into polls with the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). According to PPIC, Governor Newsom remains in a strong position to survive the September 14 recall election. The July PPIC survey finds 56% of California likely voters approve of his handling of jobs and the economy, and 59% approve of his handling of environmental issues. Governor Newsom’s approval ratings for handling specific issues and his overall job approval have been consistently in positive territory throughout this year. Reflecting the impact of hyper-partisanship, Democrats and Republicans have widely varying views of their governor—giving Newsom the numerical advantage in this deep blue state.

figure - Approval Ratings for Governor Newsom

What’s wrong with the recall?

PPIC reports that despite strong approval of the recall option, it is noteworthy that two in three California likely voters say that the recall election process in California is in need of major or minor changes. Just one in three say that the recall process is basically fine the way it is. Majorities across regions of the state and demographic groups agree that change is needed to improve the recall process, while Democrats and Republicans are divided over how much to change.

figure - Extent of Changes Needed to the Recall Election Process

One popular potential change: defining the basis for holding a recall. 

Currently, an elected official may be recalled for any—or no—reason. Sixty percent of California likely voters support raising the bar so that an elected official could only be recalled because of illegal or unethical activity. Majorities across regions and demographic groups support this change. While partisans are divided, four in ten Republicans support this reform. The level of support for this change is similar to the share who wanted to keep Newsom in office in the March and May PPIC surveys.

The reform idea that receives the strongest endorsement? 

Holding a runoff election between the top two replacement candidates if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. On this issue, 68% are in favor, as are a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Solid majorities across regions and demographic groups want this change. In the 2003 recall election, when 55% voted to remove Gray Davis, 49% voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace him. This was on a ballot that included 135 candidates. If a majority voted to remove Newsom in September, one of the 46 replacement candidates would become the next governor—even if their supporters made up only a tiny sliver of all ballots cast on September 14.

What About the Budget? 

​Often fiscal mismanagement stirs up the constituency to get rid of an elected leader, but that is not what we have here. Government is imperfect by design and everything seems to have far too much overhead but in this case, in this year, California has got it right. According to the nonpartisan California Budget & Policy Center​, the California budget plans to spend billions in helpling Californians recover from Covid. Here are just the highlights which only attest to the unified approach in helping Californians and is proof positive that a recall may only undo the great work that has been done to date.

The 2021-22 budget framework:

  • Provides a second round of Golden State Stimulus (GSS) payments, with larger payments for families with low incomes that include undocumented Californians. The budget framework includes $8.1 billion for Californians with income of up to $75,000, with payments of $500, $600, $1,000, or $1,100 depending on filing status. Larger payments for some undocumented Californians will help to reduce income inequities caused by the racist and xenophobic exclusion of our undocumented neighbors, family members, and friends from federal pandemic aid.
  • Commits to invest $300 million in public health programs in 2022-23.
  • Provides $1 billion annually in flexible local funding to address homelessness,
  • Extends the state eviction moratorium to September 30 and adjusts the emergency rental assistance program to cover 100% of back rent and prospective rent for eligible tenants. 
  • Expands comprehensive Medi-Cal coverage for income eligible-adults age 50 and over, regardless of immigration status.
  • Eliminates the Medi-Cal asset test for seniors and people with a disability. 
  • Takes the first step to end the exclusion of undocumented Californians from basic food assistance by making the state-funded California Food Access Program (CFAP) more inclusive.
    Dramatically increases spaces for children in subsidized child care programs,
  • Strengthens California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program, a core safety net for families with children. 
  • Makes college more affordable for students in low-income households by investing in need-based financial aid. 

In conclusion, the California Republicans, right-wing (hate) groups and Trump supporters inside and outside of our state, have not made a single, plausible and coherent argument as to why Californians should spend $276 million to remove an effective governor who has shepherded this massive and diverse state through a global pandemic, reopened the state for schools, businesses and worshipers and put us on track as leading the nation in economic, social and health prosperity.  I reset my case. 

NOTE: There are thousands of California recall explainers and editorials but I like what the Sacramento Bee, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CapRadio and Calmatters have provided. For this piece, I heavily relied on the numbers, the budget & the polls provided by nonpartisan organizations such as California Budget & Policy Center, Public Policy Institute of California and Ballotpedia.   

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