Gavin Newsom’s Worst Month

Kerry Jackson, A group of Californians who’ve had enough of Gov. Gavin Newsom say they have the 1.5 million signatures needed to force a recall election, and believe they will eventually have 2 million. But, we probably won’t know until after the March 17 submission deadline if there are enough valid signatures. For Newsom, the waiting must be uncomfortable.

But give him credit. He’s not resting under quarantine. He’s launched a “permanent campaign,” a strategy developed by Pat Caddell, the political adviser who told President-elect Jimmy Carter that “governing with public approval requires” elected officials to perpetually be running for office.

Newsom’s permanent campaign kicked off in late January. To the surprise of most, he rolled back his stay-at-home order, the core of the state’s pandemic restrictions, the harshest in the country. The timing suggests his decision was political — the recall had “grown from a quixotic quest among a few Republicans” to a genuine threat — but the governor swears his decision was practical.

Had that been the end of it, his claim would be believable. More recent events, though, support the narrative that Newsom had his mind on the recall.

For instance, Fox News reported on Feb. 12 that “Newsom has increased media access while showing his face all over the state to announce good news in the form of vaccination centers in Oakland, San Diego, Fresno and Santa Clara.”

A day earlier, Politico pointed out that the governor had shifted into a “recall defense,” making “daily appearances up and down the state, complete with local officials praising his work and swiping at his would-be opponents.”

Longtime Sacramento political columnist Dan Walters has pointed out that the governor who for months “beseeched Californians to wear masks, wash their hands and avoid crowds,” says, is now showing up at “orchestrated outdoor events at sports arenas and other mass vaccination sites.”

“It’s certainly smart for him, politically, to be doing more of these live events,” Democratic strategist Katie Merrill told Politico, particularly if he can highlight his “victories” over the virus.

If Newsom’s winter campaign is successful in stopping the recall, is payback far behind? While he’s clearly one of the more calculating politicians of the day, Newsom has not shown himself to be particularly vindictive. Yet, since the recall drive was accelerated by Californians enraged by the governor’s hypocrisy of attending a party at Napa’s French Laundry while laying down the most freedom-devouring pandemic rules in the U.S., it’s not unreasonable to imagine him reimposing his stay-at-home order as an act of retribution.

There are a couple of other reasons that we might see another round of restrictions.

One, the Biden White House was unhappy that Newsom lifted his stay-at-home order, and despite the taint of being the target of a recall, Newsom likely still has national political ambitions, so ticking off the Biden-Harris administration is no way to pursue those dreams.

Two, Newsom appears to have enjoyed dropping directives on Californians. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, he has played with our world as if it’s his little toy. This was evident early on in the pandemic.

Six weeks after Newsom had issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order on March 19, Steven Greenhut, in a scathing column, wrote that “California will reopen whenever it pleases the king.” Ed Ring, co-founder of the California Policy Center, made a similar observation roughly a week later, tagging the governor “King Newsom” for routinely “issuing executive orders without consulting the legislature.”

In a normal political cycle, Newsom wouldn’t be in trouble. Winning 62 percent of the vote in 2018 was a demonstration of political strength that should carry over for more than just two years.

But California is in a recall mood. The progressive left in San Francisco has grown so weary of District Attorney Chesa Boudin pretending to be a prosecutor that a recall movement has taken root. While he’s played social justice warrior, “perpetrators” “have enjoyed virtual carte blanche to steal from stores,” says San Francisco resident Erica Sandberg. Stores are shuttering in the wake of “repeated armed robberies,” while home invasions have become “alarmingly commonplace.”

After Boudin, possibly “next on the chopping block,” says Sandberg, are members of San Francisco’s school board.

Don’t expect a “sonic boom” like the one set off in 1978 by Proposition 13, though. Think political firecracker. With a short fuse.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

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