Magazine Opinions Volume 70, Issue 9

Golden State of Disrepair

By Andrew Francois

Graphic By Rin Boegel

“The arc of history is bending in our direction!” Gavin Newsom yelled to his supporters on the night of his gubernatorial victory in 2018. Things have not turned out quite so well for him.

In February 2020, a ragtag group of California Republican voters launched an official petition calling for the recall of Governor Newsom. California is one of 19 states that allow recall elections, the fundamental principle of which is that, if enough signatures of registered voters are collected by a political action group, a special election can be held, the ballots of which ask voters whether or not the state official in question should be removed from office, and if so, who should replace them. 

The recall campaign initially focused on what its proponents viewed as Newsom’s failures in regards to homelessness and illegal immigration. The deadline to receive the necessary 2 million signatures was set for November 17th, 2020. Even with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing criticism of Newsom’s administration, the campaign lagged.

Then, on November 6th, 2020, a new breath of life for the recall campaign. First, a California State Court extended the deadline for signatures to March 7th, 2021. 

That very same night, Governor Newsom enjoyed what was no doubt a delicious dinner at The French Laundry, an upscale restaurant in Napa County. The only issue? Newsom was seated maskless with several other families, just days after releasing restrictive state guidelines for family gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday. 

From there the recall campaign (and the battle against it) took off. Billions of dollars in donations came in to both sides, and by March the recall campaign submitted its petition with the needed signatures. The whole affair brings to the minds of older Californians the 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis, ending with the special election that elected Arnold Schwarzenegger, who himself has noted the similarities between the ‘03 and ‘21 campaigns.

At this point, no hard date is set for the special election, but November of this year seems a likely time. So what’s the deal now? Should Newsom be recalled? Will he be? Who should replace him?

Newsom, of course, deserves every bit of the criticism the recall campaign has mounted against him. California continues to become the poster child of homelessness as cities become sanctuaries for the wealthy, the California Public Utilities Commission faced heavy criticism for yet another round of frighteningly regular and deadly wildfires, unemployment in the state currently hovers around 9%, racial tensions left unaddressed spilled into months of protests and opportunistic looting this past summer, and by some accounts, about half of the state’s COVID-19 vaccines sit unused in freezers (vaccinations in the state have been administered almost exclusively in Los Angeles County and the Bay Area). The French Laundry was just the icing on the cake.

Will Newsom be recalled? A more difficult question. One thing is for certain: Gavin Newsom has never been more unpopular. A UC Berkeley-facilitated poll gathered that his current approval rating is 46%, an 18-point drop from four months ago. But Newsom is still a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. A relatively small portion of the state’s electorate seems willing to recall him at this point.

On the off chance that Newsom’s luck took another turn for the worse, who would replace him? Several have announced campaigns to run in the special election. Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and former U.S. Representative Doug Ose seem the most serious candidates at this point. Socialite and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner (born William Bruce Jenner) has notably launched a campaign as well, one which quickly became the laughingstock of California political editorials.

What would make this year’s recall election decidedly more interesting would be another prominent Democrat choosing to run against Newsom. This seems unlikely, but it was Cruz Bustamante’s decision to run in 2003 that left the Democratic base divided, allowing Schwarzenegger to sweep the state.