California’s Recall Is a Revolt Against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Progressive Agenda
Gov. Gavin Newsom is in trouble, and he knows it.
“California and the values we profess would be judged in a different light if this was a successful recall,” Newsom, who’s facing a recall vote on September 14, told the editorial board of the Sacramento Bee in a taped interview. “I think it would have profound consequences.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has mailed every eligible California voter a ballot with two questions on it: “Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled from the office of governor,” and which of 46 candidates should replace him if that were to happen? If the recall succeeds, whichever candidate receives the plurality of votes will replace Newsom until the next governor’s race in 2022.
(Reason extended interview requests to all of the leading candidates in the race. Larry Elder, Kevin Faulconer, and Kevin Kiley agreed to be interviewed. The others declined or didn’t respond to our requests.)
Newsom and his Democratic allies have portrayed the election as a right-wing plot to take over California’s government, pointing to substantial funding from the California GOP and Mike Huckabee’s political action committee and running ads connecting some of the pro-recall activists to QAnon and the Trump supporters who sieged the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
But what’s actually animating likely recall voters are issues like rising homelessness, high housing and energy costs, fear of rising crime, and pandemic policies that have little basis in science, like closing beaches, banning outdoor dining, and keeping in-person public schools shut longer than any other state.
The recall should be just as big of a wake-up call to the Democratic political establishment as the fact that California recently lost a congressional seat for the first time in its history.
Early in the pandemic, Newsom was second only to former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the adoration he received from celebrities and the media for his COVID response.
“I don’t know if you know this, but everyone loves you,” Ellen DeGeneres told Newsom during an April 2020 interview.
Newsom touted California as a global beacon and a model of progressive governance that he claimed would change American politics forever.
“Absolutely we see [the pandemic] as an opportunity to reshape how we do business and how we govern,” Newsom told a reporter at an April 2020 press conference.
But as “flattening the curve” morphed into indefinite lockdowns, and California’s number of positive cases surged during winter 2020 regardless, Newsom acted as if, for him, rules that were paralyzing the state’s restaurant and nightlife scene didn’t apply, dining indoors with lobbyists at an expensive restaurant called the French Laundry.
“If Gavin Newsom were in my corporation, I would have fired him a long time ago. He has failed our state in a lot of different ways,” says Orrin Heatlie, the retired Yolo County sergeant who started the recall petition six months before COVID hit. For Heatlie, illegal immigration was a motivating factor.
“[Newsom’s] open-border policy, giving our tax money to illegal immigrants for housing, food, and clothing, when our own citizens are on the street, our own veterans are homeless on the street,” says Heatlie.
Newsom, in turn, has pointed to Heatlie’s key role as further evidence that the recall effort is a plot by right-wing extremists and often highlights in particular comments that Heatlie posted to Facebook that called for microchipping illegal immigrants.
Heatlie told Reason that the comments were “hyperbole” and “not the right thing to put out there” and cites the more than 1.7 million verified signatures collected as evidence that conservatives like him aren’t the only ones who support a recall vote. Forty-nine percent of independents and—of particular concern to California Democrats—half of Hispanic voters support the recall, according to an August CBS/YouGov poll.
Newsom maintains that the recall is an anti-democratic maneuver. One group is suing to preemptively declare the outcome unconstitutional if Newsom loses to a candidate that gets fewer votes than he did in the general election.
California’s recall procedure dates to 1911, and it was championed by Progressive Era reformers who wanted to check the power of special interests like the Southern Pacific Railroad. Fifty-five California governors have faced recall petitions to date, and this is the second time that an effort to recall the governor has made the ballot. The first time was in 2003 when Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced Gray Davis.
“This has been in the California constitution for 110 years. The people that are now complaining had a lot of time to change the constitution
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