By spring 2021, with no signs that daily life will have returned to normal yet amid an ongoing pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom could be among multiple governors facing recall efforts around the country.
Voters around the country — especially but not only those who support President Trump or who own small businesses impacted by public-health shutdowns — are steaming mad at elected leaders who are trying to manage a pandemic by negatively impacting their lives. And in California, a new effort to recall Newsom has allegedly gathered 750,000 signatures — half the number it will need by March in order to qualify to get on the ballot, as the Associated Press reports.
Long a golden-boy candidate with telegenic good looks and national Democratic Party cred, Newsom has been primed for an eventual presidential run, and he'll first need to run for reelection to the governor's office in 2022. But this pandemic year has proved a difficult test for Newsom, with a huge state to lead through a crisis that different counties view with competing perspectives and priorities. Kind of like the nation in miniature — though not that miniature given a population of nearly 40 million — California is a huge state to steer through a time like this, and Newsom and his public health team have already shifted tactics twice in trying to get counties in line with a larger strategy to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
And getting caught dining out with a group at the luxe French Laundry during the week of the election, just as he and other officials around the state were preaching social distancing and sacrifice, has turned out to be a far bigger PR nightmare for Newsom than he likely imagined.
Randy Economy, whom the AP lists as a "senior adviser to the recall effort," says that the French Laundry story "has resonated" and bolstered the number of signatures for the effort in recent weeks. "It’s about the arrogance of power."
It certainly doesn't help that last week we also learned that Newsom's PlumpJack Group, the restaurant and winery operation run by his sister, got $3 million in federal PPP monies that many small businesses around the state were denied.
Politico reported last week, in conjunction with the departure of Newsom's chief of staff Ann O'Leary who's preparing a move to D.C. to join the Biden administration, that Newsom's staff is "increasingly concerned with a long-shot conservative recall [effort] that could mushroom into a major threat in 2021 if it attracts significant financial support."
On Friday, Politico reported that the Newsom recall drive gained high-profile endorsements from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — endorsements that may help galvanize the fundraising from the right that will be necessary to gather the next 750,000 signatures. The signature drive for California's last successful recall in 2003, which deposed Governor Gray Davis and installed Arnold Schwarzenegger in his place, was largely bankrolled by wealthy CA congressman Darrell Issa, and cost a reported $1.7 million. A recall next year would cost closer to $3 million, the AP reports.
The likelihood that a recall effort will succeed is currently kind of slim, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be damaging to Newsom's political career — or make his reelection effort less than a walk in the park. And how California weathers the current phase of the pandemic may do a lot to help or hurt Newsom's fortunes.
The AP notes that Newsom is already staffing up to handle the next set of political storms with the hiring of Sacramento politico Jim DeBoo as a senior adviser; and former Clinton press secretary turned Warner Bros. executive Dee Dee Myers, who'll be heading up the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development as the state deals with the coming economic recovery following a devastating year for many small businesses.
Garry South, who served as chief political adviser under Gray Davis, tells the AP that the Republicans are in a "far weaker position" than they were in 2003, and there's no big name like a Schwarzenegger ready to step into the governor's office.
Meanwhile, unrest over the handling of the pandemic has put multiple governors in the crosshairs of recall-happy foes, including New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak — though that latter effort has already fizzled after failing to meet a 90-window for signatures.
Top image: Gov. Gavin Newsom holds up a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on December 14, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. The first doses of the vaccine are being administered to frontline workers in hospitals across the country today. (Photo by Jae C. Hong-Pool/Getty Images)