The sharks are circling.
And the chum teachers’ unions are tossing in the political waters is making it more likely that Gavin Newsom will become the second California governor ever to face an actual recall election.
Newsom, who has staked his political neck on scientific data during the COVID-19 pandemic, is getting clobbered in the wake of a number of public education unions pushing back on his $2 billion plan to reopen California schools.
There is little doubt the unions believe they are doing what is best for the health of their members and by extensive that of students as well. And it really isn’t their fault that the sixth recall attempt against Newsom since he has taken office picked up steam with his French Laundry dining faux pas.
But the timing of their pushback could very likely set up a fatal one-two political punch for Newsom.
First the current row over whether it is too unsafe to re-open schools for in person learning is fueling signature gathering for the recall effort. With seven weeks to go until the March 17 deadline, the group backing the recall said they have collected 1.2 million with the Secretary of State’s office verifying 415,000 so far of the signatures on petitions that need to be turned in.
The effort needs 1,495,709 million valid signatures which means they will likely have to collect 1.6 million plus to cover those collected that are not of valid registered voters. As an added caveat it is unheard of for a measure to qualify for a statewide ballot without paid signature gatherers. The current recall effort has none.
Still, many political strategists give the effort a 50-50 shot at the present time due to the bizarre and unpredictable circumstances.
Should the recall qualify for the ballot that means an election would likely occur in August or September — the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
That’s because if and when enough signatures are verified the recall election needs to take place within 88 to 125 days from the time it is certified. If that is at end of April, the earliest an election could occur is the first part of August with the latest being in September.
If teachers’ unions in major cities successfully beat back efforts to reopen schools for in person learning that makes it a real raw political issue. Add the wildcard that the election could be all-mail due to COVID and you could have most of the votes cast in July when many public students may not have stepped inside of a physical classroom for 16 months.
Newsom’s move to lift the more draconian lockdown to retreat back to the four-color tiers that provide the guidelines for reopening has clearly irked a number of people. They point to the infection rate, newer and apparently more easily transmitted and even deadlier variants, and the still sky-high ICU bed use.
At the same time his move to loosen things up has triggered a negative reaction from people who have been pushing him to do just that. They accuse the governor of lying about using scientific data all along to make lockdown decisions. They point to data that clearly does not support the move back to purple based on what Newsom outlined in mid-December would be necessary to meet.
The data may indeed support Newsom’s latest decision because even at this point almost 11 months into the statewide pandemic health emergency some of the scientific premises are fluid as more knowledge of the disease becomes available.
But that no longer matters when large constituencies have been backed into corners such as teachers leery of just how safe in person learning can be these days, parents frustrated with learning difficulties and other issues remote schooling has created for their children, and those economically devastated by state mandated lockdowns.
Nor does it seem to matter that the Centers for Disease Control keeps repeating that when protocols are followed schools are not a hotbed for COVID transmission.
Even though many schools — including Turlock Unified — have resumed in-class learning at least a couple of days a week, there are two viewpoints on returning to a traditional schedule.
One insists that it isn’t safe until everyone — students, teachers, and staff — are all vaccinated. The other is that school districts are being too risk averse. They are the ones clamoring for contact sports.
Regardless of how pragmatic of a solution that is carved out with exceptions such as for those that would prefer their children be in 100 percent online academies, it will never be enough.
That is why Newsom’s statement that he made Thursday about teacher union demands of everyone being vaccinated first means in person learning won’t be happening isn’t hyperbole.
At the current pace of vaccinations based on the last two weeks experts say it would take until Labor Day to get 20 million Californians or half of the state’s population vaccinated. Seventy-five percent of Californians could get COVID shorts by July Fourth if the vaccination rate doubled.
Epidemiologists say that 80 percent vaccination is required for herd immunity.
That means under the pushback the governor is getting, in person learning would likely not be feasible even by the start of next school year.
While it might be tempting to take out the governor, just who out there has come up with a plan that surpasses what Newsom has done so far walking the tight rope balancing public health, the economy and the needs to educate students as effectively as possible?