The latest movement to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom couldn’t come at a more inopportune time.
First whether Newsom should be forced to face a recall election is something that should not be taken lightly. Disagreeing with his politics aside, elevating second guessing anyone who is governor whether they are doing enough or doing way too much to deal with a once-in-a-century health crisis to recall status is dicey stuff.
That’s not to say that some of Newsom’s shutdown rules haven’t come across as a bit capricious. But does it rise to the level of gross mismanagement? A lot of people would likely answer that in the affirmative. Pulling a plug on a governor through the recall process after just under two years in office when a lot of the problems he is facing — wildfires to homelessness to a questionable business climate as well as spearheading two widely controversial endeavors such as high-speed rail and the Delta tunnel — were all started or unsolved on someone else’s watch.
Several previous attempts to collect the signatures of 12 percent of the registered voters who cast ballots for governor in the 2018 election when Newsom was elected fell way short. The current try, thanks to perceptions of how he has handled the pandemic, has collected nearly half of the 1.5 million signatures required. It could go over the top by the mid-March deadline due to two things — the French Laundry incident and PG&E.
If most of us are honest, we expect politicians to pull the “do as I say not as I do” routine. His excursion three counties away to one of the most exclusive and expensive restaurants in the state while his state-imposed mandates were crushing restaurants that are more in the affordable range of the majority of the state’s 40 million residents at the same time he was urging Californians to stay home was bad enough of a blunder.
The fact he came clean when confronted with it could have taken the edge off of the sting. But within 24 hours of his mea culpa saying he set a bad example while noting that he was following social distancing protocols including dining outside smartphone photos emerged that proved otherwise.
The signature collection is taking place over a period when it is guaranteed people are going to suffer economic damage from the COVID-19 related shutdowns. And while one can counter there are lives at stake, his detractors will argue there were better ways he could have gone about it.
It doesn’t really matter what those ways are, Newsom as the state’s governor and most visible spokesperson in the pandemic efforts is going to take the political flak.
There is a real concern he won’t be given enough Brownie points or slack with enough Californians to prevent the recall from gaining steam during the pandemic. And despite protests in the Democratic State Party hierarchy that the recall effort is just another offshoot of Trump-ism, Newsom is showing signs he is taking the threat seriously.
This is all coming together with an 8 percent PG&E hike going into effect impacting 16 million Californians while at the same time the San Francisco-based utility is preparing to push for a separate 6 percent rate hike even before the one just approved takes effect.
The tipping issue that led to the 2003 recall qualifying for the ballot and then the subsequent removal of Gray Davis as governor was soaring electricity prices led by shenanigans by none other than PG&E.
The latest rate hikes are a direct result of PG&E diverting funds from previous rate hikes to do critical system maintenance that led to the deaths of 85 customers and the destruction of 14,000 homes in Butte County. PG&E copped to 85 counts of manslaughter.
Recalls are rare on the state-level. There have been 117 attempts since the recall process became part of the state constitution in 1911 during the reform era headed up by then Gov. Hiram Johnson. Of those, only seven made it all the way to the ballot and they involved state legislators.
And to make it clear Republicans aren’t the only ones that have tried the recall process as Democratic operatives have implied in their defense of Newsom. Every California governor since Ronald Reagan in 1968 has the subject of recall attempts.
Not only was Davis the first governor recalled in California history he was only the second governor in the entire United States to be successfully recalled. The dubious honor of being first went to North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.
If you are for the recall of Newsom, there is an even bigger problem — the short time frame if a recall election is triggered.
Should enough signatures be turned in by mid-March and enough verified that they are of registered voters to meet the recall threshold, the recall election must be held within 80 days. Assuming signatures are verified by mid-April and the election takes place at the maximum time period of 80 days, the recall election would take place in early July.
That means there has to be a “viable” alternative to Newsom. Freely translated, that means someone getting elected who would not follow Newsom’s playbook.
The assumption that Arnold Schwarzenegger came out of nowhere and traded on his celebrity status exclusively to win the recall with 48.8 percent of the vote is pure fantasy. Schwarzenegger had already been toying with the idea of running for an elective office and had political connections with people who knew what to do not the least of which was his then wife Maria Shriver who was part of the Kennedy clan.
Also — and arguably the biggest factor — Schwarzenegger was a moderate. He also had solid name recognition and the ability to command attention.
Much has been made of the 2003 recall being a circus as there were 135 names on the ballot including porn king Larry Flynt and grown-up child star Gary Coleman, but only four candidates drew more than 1 percent of the votes cast. The voting results to replace Davis showed Californians took the recall seriously as 93.5 percent of the votes went to the three viable candidates.
After Schwarzenegger with 48.6 percent, there was liberal and then Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante with 31.5 percent followed by conservative Tom McClintock with 13.4 percent.
All it takes to qualify as a recall candidate is 65 signatures of your party plus a $3,500 filing fee. If you want to eschew the fee, you can get 10,000 signatures of any registered voter regardless of party affiliation.
It is doubtful a conservative candidate could garner enough votes to replace Newsom if he is recalled given this is California and not Nebraska. And it is doubtful there a high-profile liberal candidate who would do things much differently than Newsom.
Actually, there is a real danger of a recall replacement being even more “liberal” than Newsom.
Say what you want about Newsom, but the fact he has actually run a city gives him a much different take on reality than most likely high-profile liberals who could seek to replace them. From that aspect Newsom is much like his predecessor Jerry Brown who came more down to earth between his two eight-year stints of governor thanks to serving as Oakland’s mayor where he was pragmatic at getting things done.
Brown was the push back on overzealous liberal agenda at the State Capitol that he did not believe was fiscally prudent. Newsom has done that as well but to a much lesser degree.
So, who is the moderate with a high enough profile, enough connections, and charismatic enough that could lead a successful campaign to replace Newsom if he is recalled on the same ballot?
Clint Eastwood? He’s dabbled in politics and has served as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea. He also made a high-profile address at the 2012 Republican convention were Mitt Romney was nominated, endorsed Michael Bloomberg in his unsuccessful run for president this year and has actively supported the likes of Dianne Feinstein and Gray Davis as well as Republicans that fit with his non-libertarian views.
But let’s be serious. Not only is Clintwood 90, but who in their right mind would want to step into the political crucible hot seat that is now the governorship in California?
The problems facing Davis in 2003 including the energy crisis and irking voters by trying to block implementation of Proposition 187 and signing into law two highly restrictive gun control laws was nothing compared to what Newsom is juggling between wildfires, homeless, the pandemic and a multitude of other issues.
If you still think Newsom is the definition of political evil and must go, dwell for a second on the idiom “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”.