This week, a recall election to decide the fate of California governor Gavin Newsom has taken place. While Newsom won the gubernatorial election in 2018 and was not due to face re-election until 2022, his response to crises related to homelessness and taxation among others has attracted immense criticism, particularly by conservative commentators.
The recall election comes in two components. First, voters were asked whether they think Newsom should be replaced for the rest of his term (which runs into January 2023). If they answered in the affirmative, voters were then asked to choose their preferred candidate for replacement.
On this occasion, Newsom survived the recall, with 63.9% voting against removing him from office. This is in spite of his Republican opponents waging an expensive campaign to force him from office early and to undo many of his policies aimed at tackling the pandemic and climate change.
The petition that eventually went on to force an election was launched in February 2020 and gained over 2 million signatures by the deadline of March 2021. In the intervening period, the governor has faced intense scrutiny from conservative activists for not only his approach to taxation and homelessness, but also the robust measures aimed at tackling the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, he has attracted criticism for acts of seeming hypocrisy, including an incident in November 2020 in which he attended a birthday party with more than three households at a restaurant in violation of Covid-19 guidelines issued by the State.
In the months running up to the election, the campaign took on a national characteristic, with not only conservative pundits uniting against Newsom, but also high-ranking Democrats campaigning on his behalf, including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama among others.
While there were dozens of candidates from the Democratic, Republican and third parties on the ballot (including Caitlyn Jenner), conservative pundit Larry Elder emerged as the strongest competitor to Gavin Newsom. Elder has pushed baseless claims that President Joe Biden’s victory was fraudulent and has fiercely criticised Newsom’s response to the pandemic, promising to undo measures aimed at reducing the spread of the virus.
In addition, Elder has promised to dial back on reforms and policies aimed at tackling climate change, even as the state faces ever worsening forest fires on an annual basis. He was able to promote his platform having been on the California radio waves for decades, and having raised over $18 million in funding for his election campaign. This was still dwarfed by Newsom’s $80 million war chest, raised from a mix of small donations and generous contributions from various unions and business interests.
Like with many elections in the United States, California’s rejection of Newsom’s removal does not necessarily indicate that the governor enjoys widespread support among voters there. With the growing rate of homelessness, some of the highest tax rates in the country and now regular large-scale forest fires, California’s population has begun to decline for the first time in its history.
Newsom will face many challengers for his position not only in the general election next year, but also in the Democratic primaries beforehand. Nevertheless, both moderate and progressive Democrats will breathe a sigh of relief that the mostly-conservative driven campaign to remove Newsom has failed, thus ensuring that key measures aimed at tackling the pandemic and climate crisis remain in place for the foreseeable future.