As the race to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom tightens, complacency has grown within the left-leaning voter base, leaving Newsom in jeopardy. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)


Opinion: In defense of Gavin Newsom

The numbers are out, the stage is set, and the ballots are soon to be cast. The 2021 California gubernatorial recall election is just over a month away and Governor Gavin Newsom, the fading politico once dubbed “The New Kennedy,” is but a margin of error away from turning over the state’s highest office. More importantly,…
<a href="" target="_self">Sungjoo Yoon</a>

Sungjoo Yoon

August 15, 2021

The numbers are out, the stage is set, and the ballots are soon to be cast. The 2021 California gubernatorial recall election is just over a month away and Governor Gavin Newsom, the fading politico once dubbed “The New Kennedy,” is but a margin of error away from turning over the state’s highest office.

More importantly, the long-standing notion that California’s blue wall of Democratic voters would be a strong enough defense for Newsom is inconsistent with recent empiricism. The University of California, Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies’ most recent poll, conducted in conjunction with the Los Angeles Times, found on July 27 that 47% of respondents would vote for the recall question, as opposed to 50% who would vote to keep Newsom.

It isn’t a statistical anomaly. A recent Emerson College poll, conducted from July 30 to Aug. 1, found 46% of likely voters recalling the incumbent, and 48% rejecting the question. A recent poll by SurveyUSA from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4 even found 51% of respondents in favor of the recall question, and just 40% opposed.

Data shows that the recall-keep divide has shortened as the recall gets closer. (Emerson College)

What this points out is a distinctive characterization of the September 14 recall. As the Berkeley IGS release points out, the “widespread expectation” among left-leaning voters that Newsom would beat the recall is driving complacency and thus low turnout, whereas GOP voters diametrically opposed to him have the momentum of the moment and are likely to turn out in what’s considered their best chance in years at flipping the coastal blue state.

And while there is no guarantee that Newsom is the next Gray Davis, who was the last California governor to be successfully recalled in 2003, it seems too many have forgotten about the awful downstream ramifications Republican control had on our state.

Former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who replaced Davis, began his term as a figure for the independent post-partisans fed up with broken state agencies and failing institutions. He made a lot of promises: to fix the public schools, to reject special interest money, to balance the budgets, and most importantly, “no more taxes”. 

But the “Terminator” star immediately got to work terminating the public school budget by billions of dollars, keeping California’s education system at record-low achievement. He terminated his special interest agreement and added the donations of 60+ CEO-equivalents to his re-election warchest. He terminated California’s budgets by borrowing endlessly, leaving us with $25.4 billion in debt. 

All just to keep tax revenues lower in the name of fiscal conservatism. And we still live with the consequences of those decisions today.

Now, Republican radio host Larry Elder is leading the recall pack. And for a man who once stated that “Lower taxes, less government spending on domestic programs and fewer regulations mean a better economy for everybody”, there are quite a number of striking similarities between 2003 and 2021.

Mind you, Elder’s platform is much worse than merely lowering taxes and cutting welfare. From touting the Trump-fueled conspiracy that the pandemic was created in a Chinese laboratory (which he refers to as the “#CCPVirus”), to falsely denying the magnitude of police brutality in the United States, and even proclaiming the destruction of the minimum wage as ideal, Elder is emblematic of the new right-wing populist movement in this country. Elder’s virulent rhetoric parallels that of which is driving the rising animosity against Asian American citizens.

But our state has come too far from Schwarzenegger’s failed experiment to go back even further. We rebuilt stronger social safety nets dismantled by him, we had public school districts see long-awaited and renewed successes on upward trendlines through initiatives like the Local Control Funding Formula, and we overcame that massive debt to massive surpluses.

It was the principal understanding that fixing problems fundamentally required investing resources that brought us back. And to accept the possibility of the further-right Elder as an alternative, to accept an even greater degradation of that understanding than we did with Schwarzenegger (hey, at least he wasn’t a conspiracy theorist!), is dangerous.

Because if we meet Elder at his highest ground, and accept the posits of his paleolibertarian theoretics, those in our communities who need assistance the most, will suffer the most.

The hard-working moms and dads in our communities who already struggle to put food on the table for their kids will bear the brunt of his ideal $0 minimum wage; with a chief whose economic principles seem to predate basic workplace rights.

The senior citizens in our communities who already in the status quo have difficulty accessing a backlogged unemployment and healthcare system would have it destroyed entirely, with a chief who doesn’t believe in basic welfare.

The minorities in our communities who identify with marginalized groups would have their concerns ignored and obfuscated by the highest office in our state; with a chief whose rhetoric fuels the actions of bigots. The list goes on.

You may not like Gavin Newsom. Hell, I don’t like Gavin Newsom. But as someone who lives in and works for a low-income California community and as someone who lived through the last Republican governor’s administration, I understand that Gavin Newsom is more than necessary when that recall ballot comes up. I pray you do as well.

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