LOS ANGELES – Less than two years after taking office, California Governor Gavin Newsom is being forced to defend his post.
Beaten by several crises, including the coronavirus pandemic, crippling unemployment, devastating forest fires and a very poorly timed fancy dinner party, Newsom faces a recall effort that shows no signs of slowing down.
A petition to oust Newsom has more than half of the signatures needed to trigger a special election, said Orrin Heatlie, who heads the Gavin 2020 campaign reminder. The volunteers had collected 844,000 signatures on Tuesday, he said.
The recall campaign must collect 1.5 million signatures by mid-March to force an election, and it will need a surplus of signatures as some are likely to be disqualified during the certification process.
“He did this to himself,” Heatlie said. “We wouldn’t have been so successful without Gavin Newsom.”
Dan Newman, spokesperson for the governor, said Californians will have to decide whether they want a “distraction and a circus” to distract from the state’s problems. He said a special election could cost taxpayers more than $ 100 million as the state works to distribute Covid-19 vaccines, reopen schools and jumpstart the economy.
“This is a motley team of pro-Trump and anti-vaccine extremists, as well as a few ambitious Republican politicians who would love to be governor,” Newman said. “I don’t think it’s something everyone wants. I’d be surprised if Californians wanted to spend the extra money and hold another election the following year.”
The current recall effort is one of six such attempts since Newsom took office, Newman said. it started in february, even before the coronavirus turns life around the world upside down. At the time, opponents of Newsom were frustrated that it had approved a bill requiring companies to classify independent contractors among employees with legal protections and benefits. A voting initiative in November overturned the law, but the political damage was done.
Then came announcements that thousands of inmates would benefit from early parole as part of the state’s Covid-19 containment plan and that immigrants without legal status would receive coronavirus relief fund by the state.
The last straw for supporters of the recall were photos that surfaced showing Newsom dining at the exclusive French Laundry restaurant in the California wine country, where the per-person tasting menu starts at $ 350. The story quickly went viral, annoying business owners and residents who accused Newsom of being arrogant and hypocritical for asking Californians not to congregate and stay 6 feet apart. while he did the opposite at a luxurious private dinner for a lobbyist friend.
“In the last three or four weeks” since the French Laundry incident, “we have seen the number of signatures explode,” said Randy Economy, a member of the Recall Gavin 2020 campaign. arrogance of power.
Newsom’s missteps have caught the attention of Republicans outside of California and others are fed up with the pandemic control measures hitting the economy. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee launched into controversy last week, putting their weight behind recall efforts.
“California’s liberal elite send their kids to private school and dine out while explaining the danger of leaving your home to YOU. Governor Newsom’s shutdown is holding families hostage. It’s time to go. @GavinNewsom“Huckabee said in a tweet.
But political analysts warn that President Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to challenge the presidential election make it hard not to view the recall effort as yet another example of Republicans sidestepping democratic processes.
“Republicans see it as a way to destabilize the political system and render government ineffective,” said Los Angeles Center for the Study director Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University. “They want to create paralysis. It’s the same as overthrowing the 2018 [gubernatorial] election.”
Local Republican leaders are also jumping into the fray, including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
Newsom “can celebrate birthdays. But you can’t. He can dine on a $ 350 meal at one of California’s fanciest restaurants during the worst recession in generations. But you sure can’t. Can- you believe it? I can’t “, Faulconer tweeted Nov 13.
About a week after Faulconer launched the tweet, a spokesperson said NBC San Diego that Faulconer is considering a race against Newsom.
In a special election, Newsom would be forced to defend his record barely two years after taking office. If recall efforts fail and he stands for re-election in 2022, Newsom will campaign every two years since 2018.
“This is not rational public policy,” Guerra said. “It’s not about politics at all. It’s about punishing the governor and distracting him.”
Californians have attempted 165 recalls since voters approved a 1911 provision giving them the power to remove elected officials and state Supreme Court judges, according to the secretary of state’s office. At least 54 of the efforts were directed at the governor.
Only one recall campaign removed a governor from office: Gray Davis, a Democrat, in 2003.
Davis was recalled during an electricity crisis in 2000 linked to the Enron scandal, which ultimately brought down an energy company that had caused blackouts for thousands of Californians while trading in the energy was being manipulated in the stock market.
Davis was elected “by a landslide” in 1998, and his approval ratings were 60% and above before the energy crisis, said former senior adviser Garry South. But by 2001, its approval ratings had fallen below 40 percent, and it entered 2002 “as damaged goods,” South said.
“It was a disaster, but it wasn’t his fault,” South said. “It all stuck with Davis’ shoe. The general public opinion was that he had not approached the problem early enough and aggressively enough.”
Davis was re-elected in 2002, but only 5 percentage points, while Newsom received an approval rating in the 1960s for his handling of the pandemic in several recent surveys conducted before the French laundry fiasco.
Two knockouts struck Davis when Arnold Schwarzenegger went from action hero to gubernatorial candidate and when United States Republican Representative Darrell Issa invested nearly $ 2 million of his fortune in the recall campaign. Schwarzenegger’s announcement sparked a wave of novelty contenders who looked more like a ‘clown car’ or ‘the bar scene from’ Star Wars’, ”South said, while financial backing from Issa added bite to the recall campaign.
“It was a cast of quirks and monsters,” South said, nominating a shortlist of 135 applicants, which included Hustler magazine editor Larry Flynt, porn star Mary Cook and former child actor Gary Coleman.
But the California of 2003 is very different from the California of 2020, analysts say. When Davis was recalled, 43% of California voters were registered as Democrats and 35% as Republicans, according to the secretary of state. This year, go to legislative elections, 46% of voters were registered as Democrats and only 24% as Republicans.
“R is the scarlet letter in California,” South said, adding that a successful deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine might be enough to turn the tide in Newsom’s favor.
Still, he warned, Newsom can’t afford to ignore recall efforts: “He can’t just wish it.”