Gavin Newsom is a smart man.
It is why in the 2018 primary he targeted fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa as his main rival and set out to make sure he wasn’t the other top vote getter to qualify for the November general election.
The former Los Angeles mayor who served in both the Assembly and State Senate was more moderate or centrist than Newsom although you could still label him as a liberal.
Labels mean nothing. But what does is how one governs. Villaraigosa was clearly closer to middle of the road when he was LA’s mayor than when Newsom was running San Francisco.
Those who are now chomping at the bit to recall Newsom often recite a myriad of reasons beyond his handling of the pandemic. They are often the same ones who resisted arguments that the best move to serve California by making sure there was a balance in Sacramento was to vote for Villaraigosa who clearly would be more appealing to conservatives than Newsom and could pull in moderate votes in a head-on-head contest.
There was no way John Cox was going to win one-on-one against Newsom in a state where the unofficial color is blue.
Instead of voting for the candidate who represented the best chance to steer California in a direction more aligned to what they wanted to see, conservatives cast their lot with Cox who was a closer for fit for a wider array of their views.
Why this stroll down memory lane matters is what is about to happen.
Barring a surge in the percentage of signatures being rejected that are running just under 20 percent, it is looking like we are going to have a recall election in California.
The signature deadline is a week away on March 17. Organizers have already collected 2 million and are likely to have 200,000 or more by the deadline. Given they need just 1,495,709 signatures verified and the unlikelihood the invalid signature percentage rises to a third of all submitted, the odds are a recall election is underway.
It is clearly not 2003 and no one of the name recognition matching Arnold Schwarzenegger has stepped up so far to be a potential replacement candidate, California is literally playing with fire.
Democratic Party strategists are painting this as an end run around the reality Republicans haven’t been able to get anyone elected to statewide office for more than a decade. Republicans that are party animals see this as a chance to stop or at least slow down what they perceive as state government gone wild.
Not everyone who would never sign a recall petition against Newsom or those that have signed it see it in such a contrast of black and white. More importantly those that don’t fall into either camp aren’t likely to have views that square with either side.
And it is clear that if enough signatures are verified by let’s say April 15 to start the constitutional clock on requiring a special election within 60 to 80 days, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis as the constitutional officer that gets to set the date will go for the outer limit.
The later the better to make people forget about their kids not being in school and for the lockdowns to be less severe, right?
But here’s the problem. The special election would take place in early July if enough signatures are verified by April 15 and early August if it takes until May 15.
Newsom has already signed legislation that would make the next election 100 percent mail-in. That means ballots are going into the hands of voters 30 days ahead of time.
Anyone who thinks big school districts like Los Angeles and San Francisco squeezing in six to eight weeks or so of limited in-person learning with the promise the upcoming school year will be better will soften those with COVID-19 fatigue to not want to lash out are assuming most Californians live and breathe party politics.
There might just be enough powder, or residue of frustration, lingering in people who could care less about electing a conservative to leave their mark on the “yes” bubble to recall Newsom.
This is where the tragedy begins.
Say what you want about Newsom, but he has pushed back from time-to-time against the California Legislature’s somewhat questionable overreaches. It may not be enough for conservatives backing Cox or those comfortable with former San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer, but it is better than nothing.
The situation clearly will be worse if a conservative Republican is elected. That’s because the Democrats have super majorities in both the State Senate and Assembly. It means they can override practically any veto at will.
A conservative governor would have to find common ground with moderate Democrats. You’ve got to ask yourself what common ground that would be with Cox especially if he is elevated in a recall election that could arguably be decided about how frustrated or feed up voters are with lockdowns and everything COVID-19 related.
It would be a different situation if Cox or another conservative won in a regular election or manages to command an almost 50 percent vote total as Schwarzenegger did in 2003.
There are some who would argue that a conservative could govern successfully given in the November 2020 election after electing Democratic super majorities in both houses California voters soundly rejected five progressive ballot initiatives. That likely is wishful thinking.
Then there is another very real danger. After the recall qualifies, the Democrat Party apparatus — not wishing to risk losing the office even for 18 months— might get someone on the ballot who is even more to their liking than Newsom.
You can argue California is in a bad place now but you can’t ignore the reality that a successful recall won’t likely make it better from your perspective as it will almost certainly make it worse.
When the recall petition drive started against Davis, not very many political types thought it would succeed let alone have 135 people to replace the governor on the ballot or lead to Schwarzenegger being elected as governor.
Cox is no Arnold and neither is Faulconer.
But given the barrier to qualify for a recall ballot is extremely minimal this could be a repeat of the 2003 circus. Back in 2003 it was 65 signatures from members of your party and a $3,500 filing fee.
It is likely candidates could pop up like weeds literally overnight once the Secretary of State verifies that it is off to the races.
Opportunists and those with realistic ambitions did not care that Davis had dismissed the recall effort as “party mischief” on the part of Republicans, was being driven by a “handful of right-wing politicians” and the proponents of the recall were losers.
Once the recall fire was ignited it turned into a raging free-for-all.
Is that what California needs?
Win or lose the recall, Newsom will take a hit to his political future.
That is why the only thing for certain is Newsom’s dinner at the French Laundry is going to turn into the most costly meal he has ever had.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org