By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – A quote that stood out from over the week, as Anne Dunsmore, campaign manager for the pro-recall group Rescue California, talked to the Mercury News—“Regardless of whether Newsom wins or loses, Dunsmore said, the recall sends a message to Democrats.” She said, “This is just the battle. It’s not the end of the war. We’ve made our point.”
Larry Elder is similarly claiming some sort of cosmic victory, I suppose.
“We may have lost the battle but we are winning the war,” the conservative radio host told hundreds of backers in the Hilton Orange County ballroom. “We are forcing them now to do a better job. … They are now listening in ways they never have before.”
I don’t know which game they’re watching, but the only thing I have learned from all of this is just how absurd California recall laws actually are.
When Gray Davis was removed his approval rating was in the 20s—and miraculously even then he received 45 percent of the vote to not recall him. Gavin Newsom’s approval was over 50 percent in the polls and as high as 56 percent in the exit polls. Not exactly the kind of numbers that will lend themselves to a voter base effectively firing him.
Elder may think he’s forcing someone to do a better job, but I learned a few things from this and none of them have to do with a credible threat from Elder or the right.
Second, the GOP is even weaker in California than you think. Despite putting forth a real effort to contest, Newsom was still comfortably ahead by 2.6 million votes.
Third, while Elder did well, the majority of people did not vote on the second question, showing that the correct strategy was actually not to put forth an alternative to Newsom and then focus on the frontrunner—in this case, Elder made an inviting target.
If anything, the results of the recall strengthened Newsom’s hand. The number one issue was COVID. The majority of people in California—about 70 percent—think that the regulations are correct, and that Newsom and the state has done a good job.
So the reverse is actually true—rather than Larry Elder and Anne Dunsmore sending a message to Newsom, the voters sent a message to the GOP: we actually want these COVID regulations. Now go get vaccinated.
The voters sent another message. If you are going to put Larry Elder as your top pick rather than someone more reasonable like Kevin Faulconer, you can’t compete in California—not even in an off-year, recall election.
Newsom may have briefly been nervous about turnout, but all the recall did was shake the beast. Newsom now has his hand strengthened as he goes into a re-election campaign that is likely not to draw anyone who is credibly a threat.
Larry Elder may well emerge as the leading Republican. I’m sure Newsom relishes that battle.
Those of us on the side of housing reform and criminal justice reform now look forward to Newsom signing the plethora of bills waiting for him from his legislature.
We also have a new focus on our agenda—reforming recall laws. Recall plays an important role in checking corrupt politicians.
As much as the French Laundry incident was ill-advised and distasteful, it amounted to a mistake, not a travesty. It is telling that French Laundry rather than San Quentin became the rallying call for this. The mismanagement by state officials of COVID led to actual deaths at San Quentin, with only lurid photos at the French Laundry.
The right is up in arms about racism in the distasteful gorilla incident, but looks the other way at Mario Woods, Stephon Clark, Willie McCoy, Sean Monterrosa, Angelo Quinto and so many more.
Finally, it is time to fix recall. A small group of outliers should not have the ability to recall a governor. We need the power to recall, but we need a higher threshold and better safeguards to prevent a repeat of this waste of time.
The way the current laws are written, even a guy with a 65 percent approval rating could have to face recall if a committed group of partisans opposes him. That’s not a good use of time or public money. We have to fix that—and fast.
The polarization in our state, as in our country, is only going to get worse.
Sadly, we really do have dire things that we need to address—COVID, climate change, justice reform, and the works; instead we had to go through another campaign to prevent someone like Elder from gaining power through the back door.
This cannot be allowed to happen again.