Californians weary of politics after an ugly 2020 election season may be in for an intense new campaign in coming months, perhaps the most intense in American politics this year.
Leaders of an effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom have submitted nearly 2.1 million signatures, far beyond the 1.5 million necessary. If no more than 600,000 of those submissions fail to get verified, a recall election would occur no later than the fall, and voters would be asked if they want to fire the San Francisco Democrat and who should replace him if the recall succeeds.
This may not be as big a spectacle as the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis because Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't involved. But an epic fight looms with national Democrats and Republicans spying a rare election opportunity in an odd-numbered year.
The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board wrote in December that a Newsom recall isn't justified. He's demonstrated neither corruption nor massive incompetence, and although his smart initial decisions in addressing the pandemic have given way to some really bad mistakes, many governors who aren't facing recalls did even worse.
But Newsom should be worried. In 2003, two Republicans — Schwarzenegger and Tom McClintock — got 62% of the vote on who should replace Davis. This recall election, GOP voters are once again likely to be the most motivated. And others upset about California's school and other closures will want to send a message. Also, a vote-by-mail election precipitated by the pandemic could lead to high turnout.
The anti-Newsom attack ads write themselves. There are images of Newsom eating at the French Laundry restaurant in November despite urging people to stay home. There are details of a massive unemployment benefits scandal on his watch. There is the fact California currently has the least in-person instruction in the nation and the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently ranked it among the five worst states in distributing vaccines to the communities with the worst infection rates during the pandemic.
The recall will be a referendum on his handling of the pandemic. He may survive if the vaccination rollout rolls on, vaccine inequities are corrected, the Employment Development Department scandal is addressed, and schools largely reopen as the disease subsides. But those are all big ifs at this point.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE