The Elephant Seals and the Vinter: The California Recall Election


There are two things every Republican in California knows. First, that they can only win the governorship in recall elections, and second, that current Democratic California Governor Gavin Newsom would love for them to be in every election. Republicans in a race provide Newsom with an easy election strategy. He can avoid being pressed on any of the reasons state voters would vote against him if he can tie his opponent to Trump. 

Photo by Gage Skidmore/Wikipedia

Unfortunately for Newsom, in this current recall election, it looks like that strategy is starting to falter. Newsom had a 50% approval rating, and the recall was in a statistical tie in early August. He has since recovered and the recall is currently at 46.3% support. However, that temporary tie should never have been possible. He is a Democratic governor in a solidly blue state and while he abuses tying his opponents to Trump, in this case, there is some evidence supporting that this originated as a Republican campaign against Newsom, even if it grew into something less partisan. Even if it is a Republican abuse of democracy, why was it able to get enough traction so that “Yes” and “No”were ever in a statistical tie? 

A few reasons can be produced. First, in a recall, most of the likely voters are those who supported the recall, says 538’s Nathaniel Rakich. Therefore, a poll of likely voters will overestimate the success of the recall and underestimate Newsom’s approval ratings. This renders the predictions in late July as suspect and makes Newsom look more vulnerable than he actually is. This does however, reveal that unless Newsom can galvanize people to vote, he is in danger. 

However, Newsom hasn’t been helping his popularity with his own actions. He authorized the spread of COVID-19 among the California prison population by transferring sick prisoners to San Quentin. He opened up Orange County due to his poor polling in Orange County, not because COVID-19 cases had decreased. He also attended a birthday party with lobbyists in Napa, while advising businesses to remain closed to indoor dining. He has also failed to fix the Department of Motor Vehicles or Employment Development Department despite discussing it. While none of these actions are criminal or evidence of corruption, they are Newsom’s own actions and do not help his public image.  

Third, among all voters, there is a rising discontent with the status quo in Sacramento. Green Party Candidate David Kaplovitz notes that the state legislature has a funny habit of only passing a single payer health care bill when the governor is certain to veto it. Other candidates call attention, even if insincerely, to voter concerns the state has failed to sufficiently address under Newsom such as: the rising cost of livingrising homelessnesshigh taxescorruption the DMV and EDD and other in government departmentsa low K-12 public school ranking; and insufficient water infrastructureDespite this, Newsom and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have called this recall a Republican coup and an abuse of democracy.  

This may be an abuse of democracy arising from allowing no-fault recalls, but unless we want to call all abuses of democracy coups, it is not a coup. It’s no fault recall elections permit this abuse on behalf of ultracrepidarian malcontents with enough time on their hands to perennially file recall petitions. However, this is an indictment of the very concept of recalls themselves, not just the recall of Newsom, and as such should not be used to defend Newsom in this election. To save democracy from recalls, you should follow the groups planning to reform how the right to recall politicians is structured in the constitutions that allow citizens to recall politicians, not this particular instance of frivolously using a legitimate legal institution to overturn an election instead of urging voters to oppose this particular recall

Furthermore, how is this frivolous use of elections more of an attack on democracy than the legislature abusing its power as a legislative body by signing bills allowing a recall target to know the names of recall supporters or removing the legislative analysis to ensure that the recall occurs before fire season or a COVID-19 resurgence lower Governor Newsom’s popularity further, especially when the legislature added that provision to prevent another recall from winning? Abusing democracy is abusing democracy, regardless of whether its California Republicans, Benjamin Netanyahu, Napoleon Bonapartethe Gracchi brothers, the Roman Senate or the Sacramento Legislature. 

A better tactic to defeat this particular recall for Newsom himself, would be to focus on his achievements as governor. Meanwhile, he should downplay problems with government agencies as structural problems not even his opponents could solve. This would explain why California should keep Newsom in a positive sense, rather than simply argue that he’s better than the alternative. With 46 candidates including Caitlyn Jenner, John Cox, Larry Elder, Angelyne, Kevin Paffrath, who all want a pipe from the Mississippi to California to solve the drought, Trevor Noah and Reason have joked that based on Cox’s campaign stunts, an actual bear being the best candidate isn’t hard. Second, to ensure that the recall was between Newsom and unpopular Republicans and prevent replicating the “No on Recall,Yes on Bustamante” fiasco of 2003, the state Democratic Party discouraged qualified establishment Democrats from running.  Therefore, they created the threat that a successful recall would elect a joke candidate or a Republican governor, rather than a qualified Democratic candidate. Finally, a positive argument for Newsom also functions as a means of preempting any use of the issues mentioned above by his opponents in the 2022 gubernatorial primary election. Even if this particular recall is a Republican coup, the 2022 gubernatorial primary is neither a coup, nor undemocratic. Many of the same issues raised in this recall election will still exist and will be used to attack Governor Newsom in that primary. Finally, in the upcoming gubernatorial race, accusing all of the opponents of being Trumpists won’t, or rather shouldn’t, work. Thus, it is best for Newsom to ignore Trump in this recall and focus on using it to strengthen the case to reelect him in the next general election. 

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