Does Gavin Newsom deserve to be recalled three years into his first term as governor of California?
Now that the recall election has an official date, Sept. 14, the low-powered — or at least poorly financed — campaign to oust Newsom will face the governor’s lavishly funded defense. That includes billions of taxpayer dollars he’s doling out and highlighting in campaign ads to ingratiate himself with the voting public.
Newsom’s Governorship During Pandemic
Back to the main question. Does Newsom deserve to be fired? Yes and no.
Certainly he’s guilty of blatant hypocrisy, such as attending, unmasked, a lavish birthday dinner for a lobbyist after admonishing Californians to avoid gatherings and wear masks to battle COVID-19. Or commiserating on national television with parents of children forced to remain at home in “Zoom school” while his own children were attending a tony private school.
Certainly, too, his insistence on taking one-man control of the pandemic and his very erratic, terminally confusing, decrees about what Californians could and could not do are fodder for legitimate criticism. His unwillingness to confront powerful school unions as they resisted reopening the schools for well over a year is another blemish on his record.
Finally, the blatantly self-serving legislation to speed up the recall election symbolizes the arrogance that has marked Newsom’s governorship.
Recall May Be a Waste of Money, ‘Destined to Fail’
However, do these and other flaws, such as his unilateral ban on capital punishment after voters specifically refused to end it, warrant a recall election that will cost more than $200 million? Since Newsom would be seeking reelection anyway just a year later, it seems to waste money better spent on California’s many serious issues.
Moreover, the recall campaign seems destined to fail, given Newsom’s relatively strong position in polling of voters, which is why he and the Legislature changed the rules for an earlier election. They didn’t want to risk that unforeseen events might damage him were the election to be held in October or November.
If recall proponents — Republicans, mostly — were to have a fighting chance of success, they would need to coalesce behind one well-known, well-financed candidate to succeed Newsom, as demonstrated by California’s first and only gubernatorial recall, that of Gray Davis in 2003.
Davis, who was more unpopular than Newsom is now, probably would have survived the recall had movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger not offered himself as a replacement. There were 135 would-be replacements on the 2003 ballot and we’re likely to have nearly 100 this year, but none has anywhere close to Schwarzenegger’s drawing power.
A very weak Republican Party, a late-blooming sponsor of the recall, can’t even settle on one challenger and voters will be disinclined to vote for Newsom’s ouster if they don’t see a viable alternative.
Recall Dependent on Voter Turnout
All in all, Newsom enters the official campaign phase of the recall is a very strong position to win, perhaps even by a landslide. However, it’s not a sure thing because of the election’s unique dynamics.
One factor will be how many voters will actually cast ballots, since California’s special elections are notorious for their low turnouts.
While polling consistently indicates Newsom’s strong position, “elections are ultimately determined by the voters who actually cast their ballots,” as the Public Policy Institute of California notes in a recent analysis.
PPIC’s polling has found that “likely voters who wanted to remove Governor Newsom were much more interested in the recall than those who wanted to keep him in office. If the governor’s supporters remain less engaged in the upcoming election, then the recall could end up being closer than the polls to date have indicated.”