By David M. Greenwald
It looks increasingly like a recall effort will get the matter of Gavin Newsom on the ballot. But, while his standing has fallen from 64 percent approval in September to 46 percent now (against 48 percent disapproval), it does not appear right now that there are the votes to remove him from office.
An IGS (Institute of Governmental Studies from UC Berkeley) poll released last week shows only 36 percent of votes support removing him from office, but there is a large number of undecided at, 19 percent.
“These results should provide a strong warning to the Governor,” IGS co-director Eric Schickler said in a release accompanying the poll. “If the recall election does go forward, the state’s response to the pandemic needs to be seen as more successful for the Governor than it is now for him to be confident of the election outcome.”
IGS poll director Mark DiCamillo said that the trendline is not great, but he is in a far stronger position than Gray Davis was in 2003 when he was removed from office.
“I would say that a lot depends on the events of the next three or four months. What’s unusual about the measure on his recall is the relatively large proportions of voters still undecided,” DiCamillo said. “I think that the job rating hit is serious, but if things start to improve on the pandemic front I think the recall will be less of a problem for him.”
The partisan split is interesting. A PPIC Poll (Public Policy Institute of California poll) released on February 2 showed 71 percent of Democrats versus 46 percent of independents and 16 percent of Republicans support his job approval. But Republican dislike is not enough in a state where they only represent 24 percent of all votes and where Trump received just over one third of the vote.
Newsom can survive by shoring up his base—71 percent Democratic voter approval is worrisome for the governor.
However, one thing is clear—there has been speculation that he could name either Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg or Los Angeles area Congressional Leader Adam Schiff.
For Steinberg, once the State’s Senate leader, there was grumbling even before the city botched shelter for homeless people in the area—leading to a potential push for a recall of the mayor by homeless advocates.
Meanwhile, Adam Schiff would serve as a lightning rod both on the left and the right. The right sees his outspoken opposition to former President Trump as a huge negative, while the left is unimpressed with his record on criminal justice reform matters.
“The justified anger from the left has not been getting enough attention,” Kate Chatfield tweeted on Saturday. “The right is upset with Newsom as they fight their increasingly bizarre culture wars, but the anger on the left is real and deep.”
Chatfield, a Senior Legal Analyst with the Appeal who helped draft SB 1437 legislation, believes that whomever Newsom appoints as AG “will speak volumes.”
She said, “If he appoints Adam Schiff or some carceral DA, or someone who has done nothing against mass incarceration or who has been supported by right wing law enforcement, he will (again) be telling so many communities that they do not matter to him.”
A letter the Vanguard published last week from a coalition of reformers noted, “When Adam Schiff was a member of the California legislature, he was not only supportive of, but deeply invested in, creating our current system of incarceration. This system of incarceration has continued to devastate communities of color and continues to take resources away from our schools, cities, and from all Californians in need.
They continue: “We know that many Democratic politicians in the 1990’s and 2000’s espoused a ‘tough on crime’ platform. However, even President Biden, one such politician, campaigned on ending the federal death sentence and acknowledged that his prior tough on crime policies were a mistake.”
They point out that, in contrast to Biden who has moved toward justice reform and opposition to the death penalty, “Schiff has continued to support legislation that would expand the size and scope of our system of incarceration, including voting recently to expand the federal death penalty, legislation that was part of a right wing narrative against Black Lives Matter and calls across the United States for police accountability.”
For example, “Schiff was one of just 48 Democrats to vote for The Thin Blue Line Act of 2017, a bill that would expand the federal death penalty when a law enforcement officer is killed, despite there already being laws that allowed for this.”
They argue, “This bill fed into a right-wing narrative against the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement for police accountability, suggesting that these racial justice groups were putting law enforcement lives in danger. The dog-whistle was heard by many.”
One problem that reformers face—they seem divided on whom to support.
For instance, two weeks ago the Vanguard published a letter with over 160 signatures from the Asian American community pushing for California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu.
“On and off the bench, Justice Liu has distinguished himself as a leading voice for racial justice and inclusion in the legal profession and beyond,” said Mia Yamamoto, LGBTQ+ rights advocate and co-founder of the Multi-Cultural Bar Alliance of Southern California. “Asian Americans too often remain an invisible minority. Justice Liu’s pathbreaking 2017 study on Asian Americans in the legal profession enabled our community’s accomplishments to be celebrated and our challenges to be addressed.”
Meanwhile, public defenders are pushing for Assemblymember Ash Kalra—a former public defender.
Signed by, among others, Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson and San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, they write: “As public defenders who represent people and serve families most impacted by our criminal legal system, we call upon Governor Gavin Newsom to appoint Assemblyman Ash Kalra as California’s next Attorney General.”
Others are supporting Rob Bonta,
“As a career-long advocate for justice and equality, Rob Bonta has led the fight in the Legislature to reform the criminal justice system and treat people with dignity,” Assemblymember Evan Low said in a statement. “I’ve known Rob for years, and he would lead the California Department of Justice with distinction.”
The Legislative Black Caucus is supporting Contra Costa DA Diana Becton.
Becton, a strong progressive prosecutor, was endorsed in a unanimous vote by the legislative group, who called her a “well-respected jurist and litigator with an exceptional statewide and national reputation among her colleagues, California’s law enforcement, and social justice communities.
“She is an experienced executive leader of large organizations, a strong supporter of progressive policies aligned with CLBC priorities, and has a track record of working with California’s diverse communities,” according to the CLBC.
For Newsom to survive, the pandemic in California will have to improve—as people are vaccinated, numbers go down, and schools and businesses open, his standing will improve. But maintaining his base in a state where Biden was a +29 over Trump is critical and the AG appointment could be a signal to progressives as to whether Newsom is worth saving.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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