After a month-long mail-in vote, the campaign to recall California governor Gavin Newsom is ending. If Newsom obtains a majority, which is very likely, he will keep his seat and run for election next year. But coming on the heels of his 2018 landslide, the recall attempt — whatever the outcome — is a blow, revealing massive discontent with his performance, and more broadly, with progressive policies.
Newsom — and suddenly the entire Democratic party, it seems — seeks to turn the vote into a referendum on so-called Democratic and Republican values. Last week on the campaign trail, Vice President Kamala Harris implausibly claimed that restrictions on ‘women’s rights, reproductive rights, voting rights, worker’s rights’ are at issue.
Weekend television in California was abuzz with expensive Newsom campaign ads. The President will show up briefly in Sacramento and Long Beach on Monday to pitch him. The Biden administration, in a public opinion free-fall, is eager to announce that Newsom’s victory validates its progressive policies. Moreover, the global power colossus called Hollywood and Silicon Valley considers California the nation’s chief laboratory for climate change, clean energy, transportation, housing, social justice, crime, diet, and moral values. Deviations from we-are-the-future are highly unwelcome.
If Newsom fails to gain a majority, voters will choose among 46 hopefuls. The front-runner is well-known radio talk show host Larry Elder, a political novice and enthusiastic Trumpist. A black Republican and graduate of Brown University and the University of Michigan Law School, Elder suffers the unique defamation reserved for racial apostates. ‘Larry Elder is the Black face of white supremacy,’ a Los Angeles Times columnist fumes. Elder’s unexpected electoral strength, trouncing established Republicans including former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, reflects the disturbing confluence of celebrity and electoral politics nationwide.
More than any single issue, Newsom’s capricious, harsh COVID mandates led to the recall petition, signed by 2.1 million state residents. Newsom’s off-and-on shutdowns of businesses and schools — and his craven submission to the teachers’ unions — have taken a toll. Conversely, masking and vaccination mandates are popular among state progressives.
The French Laundry restaurant debacle last November triggered the petition’s success. Newsom attended an unmasked, opulent dinner with campaign operatives and lobbyists at the showy Napa Valley bistro — where the basic prix fixe is $350 — while telling Californians to stay safe and spend Thanksgiving without their families. He fessed up only after pictures surfaced online, sealing his reputation as a phony and confidence man.
Then comes homelessness, and related, the rapid commercial decline of downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles. Crazies and junkies control primo public space. Let’s provide affordable housing, the innocent exclaim, along with rapacious contractors and service providers. More public showers, food, phones, bicycles, tents, emergency room services, and sketchy rehab therapies are the answer.
California’s public-private homelessness complex disregards social pathology as a cause in favor of blaming society, creating sinecures, and funding psychobabble. It has iron control at the municipal, county, and state levels, proving the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s remark that there’s good money in bad policy. An estimated half of the vagrants in the US reside in California. According to Newsom, Californians ‘have a responsibility to accommodate’ the homeless from other states who ‘want to come here for new beginnings.’
This smarm infuriates his adversaries. ‘Governor, if you wish to have them in your vineyard, in your property, in your mansion by all means you have the freedom to invite them there, but here in LA County we are pretty much full,’ said sheriff Alex Villanueva, adding that the newcomers arrive ‘to enjoy the free services and the weather.’ Villaneuva refused to enforce the reinstated state mask mandate.
To understand Newsom’s gauzy sentiments, think Marin County, where Newsom came of age. Marin has long been an epicenter of lily-white dolce far niente and bohemian virtue signaling. It’s the irony-free world of Black Lives Matter signs on the Episcopal church and rainbow flag decals on Porsche Cayennes.
The 53-year-old governor is the essence of white privilege, the son of a prominent judge and Bay Area politico tight in the Pelosi circle. At 24, when Mayor Willie Brown appointed him a city supervisor, Newsom got his political start. The complex financial interweave with the Getty oil fortune and his steamy romantic exploits are well documented. He was married briefly to the remarkable Kimberly Guilfoyle, and his soap-opera lifestyle still fascinates California voters.
Newsom is a master of situational ethics. As San Francisco’s new mayor in 2004, his calculated, staged decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples broke the law. The stunt drew almost universal criticism and infuriated the Democratic establishment, including Newsom’s mentor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. More than 4,000 couples wed before the California Supreme Court halted and nullified the marriages. The fallout led to the successful 2008 campaign for Proposition 8, which banned gay marriages in California. Yet Newsom came out ahead, suddenly a nationally known political figure, a presidential comer, and a face for marriage equality.
Beyond Newsom’s manicured bubble, California is falling apart. Out-of-control immigration fuels the anti-Newsom forces. From Hemet to Modesto, far away from Mount Tamalpais, the California of Section 8 vouchers, rancid 7-Elevens, and mobile drug labs proliferates. Neighborhoods might be Indian, Persian, Russian, Armenian, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Salvadoran or Mexican. In low-end metro areas, fierce ethnocentrism and suspicion of strangers prevails. Commonwealth is dead.
In favored metro neighborhoods, where diversity is the by-word, a million might buy a pleasant house and safe schools, unbarred windows and clean streets. (Yet not so exurban or ‘redneck’ as to deprive oneself of some yummy dim sum in the global village.) For the really good coastal and foothill properties — again, think Marin County — you’ll need at least two or three million, preferably in cash or a 50 percent down payment, and that’s before the tuition payments for little Noah and Willow.
Complicating things, many ardent California progressives are homeowners, and their children stand to inherit valuable, increasingly scarce real estate. For California’s gentry, the Proposition 13 property tax cap is sacrosanct, no matter how shiny their leftist badges. True to form, Newsom has hedged on whether or not it should be repealed.
Reputable polls indicate one third of Californians, mainly native-born residents and asset holders, Prop 13 or not, are thinking of leaving the state. Many are looking for tax relief and less congestion. Arizona, Idaho, and Texas are common destinations. Last year, the desperate California Assembly proposed ‘exit taxes’ on former California residents for up to a decade after they’ve left the state.
In the overwhelmingly Democratic state, Newsom will weather the political storm. And if elected, Elder would work no magic, saddled to a legislature able to override any veto at will. But a vote for Newsom is a vote for the status quo, for more of the same, only worse: technocracy and bureaucratic overkill entwined with electronic illusionism. For those with a memory of peak California — a state that once excelled in civic talent, infrastructure, education, and quality of life — melancholy over what might have been is endemic.