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Dan Walters

Walters: Newsom Hurts Himself with Unforced Errors



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The quarterback drops back to pass, spots a receiver and cocks his arm to throw, but the football slips out of his hand, a lineman from the other team snatches up the loose ball and runs for a touchdown.

It’s called an “unforced error” and in sports it’s the worst kind of mistake, one that could mean the difference between winning and losing.

What’s true in sports is also true in politics and Gov. Gavin Newsom should confess, at least to himself, that he faces a recall election that could tank his political career largely due to his unforced errors.

Dan Walters


Recall was Going Nowhere Until …

Newsom characterizes the recall campaign as a desperate effort by right-wing kooks, but it was going nowhere until Newsom committed the grandmother of all unforced errors — a very expensive dinner at Napa’s French Laundry restaurant with some lobbyists that plainly violated his pleas to Californians to avoid gatherings and wear masks.

Were French Laundry an isolated example, Newsom would have probably not been seriously affected. But he has continued to do and say things that reinforce the recall campaign’s theme that he is an arrogant elitist oblivious to the concerns of ordinary citizens.

Another example popped up last week when he told a CNN interviewer he’s “been living through Zoom school,” a few days after telling Californians in his State of the State address that he and his wife have struggled to help their four young children “cope with the fatigue of Zoom school, the loneliness of missing their friends, frustrated by emotions they don’t yet fully understand.”

He clearly was attempting to identify with millions of parents whose children have been kept at home for a year and whose angst as been one of the recall’s drivers. However, as journalists quickly pointed out, Newsom’s children attend a tony private school that reopened many months ago.

It was an unforced error, not on the scale of the French Laundry, but once again contributing to the image of a governor who’s tone deaf.

Complaints Over Rules for School Sports

And while we’re on the subject of education, Newsom, or at least the officials he commands, committed another unforced error regarding the resumption of high school sports, another sore point with the parents.

The Department of Public Health allowed games to resume, but said only one parent could attend and banned cheerleaders, who immediately complained about the unfairness of the decree.

The rules were quickly revised to allow cheerleading, but the flap could have been avoided had Newsom and his advisors thought through the sports guidelines from the standpoint of parents and students by actually talking to them before issuing orders from on high.

Blue Shield Controversy

Speaking of which, how about that Blue Shield deal?

With the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program bogged down, Newsom suddenly decided to offload supervision to Blue Shield, a health care behemoth that has, as journalists quickly pointed out, a long history of donating to Newsom’s political campaigns.

However, what Newsom thought would be a move to smooth out the vaccination program turned out to be another unforced error. The shift immediately attracted opposition from local public health officials who apparently had not been consulted and many of them refused to sign contracts with Blue Shield.

It forced the administration to allow the refusniks to contract directly with the state, rather than Blue Shield. Rather than demonstrating that Newsom was on top of the vaccination situation, it lent credence to an image of arrogant bumbling.

Newsom is still favored to avoid recall, but if he continues to make unforced errors, he could die the political death of a thousand small cuts.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He has written more than 9,000 columns about the state and its politics and is the founding editor of the “California Political Almanac.” Dan has also been a frequent guest on national television news shows, commenting on California issues and policies.

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