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‘Hypocrite’ Newsom vs. ‘Trumpian’ Elder: Intense partisan divide at recall ballot box

A voter casts his ballot Tuesday at the Boyle Heights Senior Center.
A voter casts his ballot for the gubernatorial recall election at the Boyle Heights Senior Center on Tuesday.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

After weeks of campaigning, advertisements and social media posts, there seemed to be few ambivalent voters as Californians decided whether to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom in Tuesday’s recall election.

Some voters found the election ridiculous, saying Newsom had done a good job and they hoped to preserve California’s progressive policies by supporting him.

But to others, the recall was a crucial moment for a state they believe has lost its way and is not receiving the leadership it needs.

Larry Elder, a far-right talk radio host, has emerged as the front-runner among the GOP, highlighting the vast partisan gap in California.

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Recent polls have shown the recall movement facing an uphill battle, as well as support for Newsom’s pandemic policies, which prompted the effort to oust him.

Here is how it played out Tuesday in various communities.

What you need to know about California’s Sept. 14 recall election targeting Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Riverside

Javier Cisneros, owner of a locksmith business, said he voted to recall Newsom mostly because of homelessness and coronavirus mandates he felt were overreaching.

After his business was forced to close for a month last year, he was upset to learn that the governor’s PlumpJack Group, which operates a dozen shops, wineries, restaurants and a hotel, continued to operate.

Last July, the governor ordered 19 counties hit hardest by the coronavirus to scale back indoor and outdoor business operations. Months later, Newsom was seen maskless inside the upscale restaurant French Laundry for a birthday dinner.

“He’s a hypocrite,” said Cisneros, who voted to recall the governor and chose Elder as the replacement, saying he would do a better job of tackling the problems that have consumed the state.

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The closely watched recall campaign carries immense consequences, not just for the nation’s most populous state, but for the nation as a whole.

Santa Ana

Louie Boucher, a Santa Ana College sophomore majoring in chemistry, voted against the recall because he believes Newsom has done his best to “try to protect the people in this state.”

Boucher said his grandmother contracted COVID-19 and nearly died.

“It’s because people are not doing the most they can for the community,” he said. “Without the mask mandates, we’re just going to go back to square one.”

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Pasadena

Wanda James, a retired teacher in her 80s, voted to keep Newsom in office — equating the alternative to an unwanted intrusion of “Trumpism in disguise.”

Elder “is absolutely the wrong person to ever be governor of anything,” said James, wearing purple sunglasses adorned with rhinestones and a face mask bearing an image of Rosie the Riveter.

The area resident said she used to listen to Elder on the radio because she felt it was vital to know the “opposite point of view.”

Leaning on her blue-and-white cane, she added, “You need to know what the crazies are talking about.”

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She lauded Newsom’s handling of the pandemic, crediting him for staying calm and acting in accordance with science.

“I was just really proud of the way he and [Los Angeles] Mayor [Eric] Garcetti handled themselves during that whole period of time,” she said. “And I had the feeling that he did not let politics enter into his decisions — until this recall business got really serious.”

Larry Elder led the 46 candidates on the second question on the ballot hoping to become governor, but that became meaningless after a majority of Californians voted to keep Gavin Newsom in office.

South Los Angeles

Nnedinma Ofoha, 28, and her brother Obinna, 24, arrived at the polls early, dressed in sweats and slides. They were both uninspired but felt obligated to vote.

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“I honestly don’t know anything about politics. I’m pretty antipolitics, but I’m here voting because my family is making me vote,” Obinna said.

Nnedinma forced him out of bed, he said, with one instruction: “Vote no on the recall.”

“The recall doesn’t make sense, but I don’t take any election lightly,” Nnedinma said.

With their civic duty fulfilled, social worker Nnedinma was eager to start her workday at home. Obinna, a student, had plans to watch television.

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A sense of obligation, frustration with the process and fear of “ridiculous” recall candidates were common themes in Crenshaw.

“This was just shenanigans,” said 65-year-old Abe Jacques before getting into his car.

“This isn’t the way to change,” agreed Maya Estephanos, a 36-year-old actress and choreographer who moved to Los Angeles 12 years ago from Atlanta.

Estephanos wasn’t living in California during the last recall. She’s shocked by the process and skeptical of it.

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“I think it’s set up to prey on people who are busy,” she said.

The gubernatorial recall election demonstrates a truth about modern California: We have lost patience amid many crises, and any proposal that doesn’t lead to a fix is reason to mobilize.

Norwalk

Whittier resident Yolanda Garcia, a Superior Court employee, is a registered Republican but said party had nothing to do with her yes vote.

“Vote, vote, vote,” Garcia said. “I’m voting yes because I’m the mother of a 12-year-old daughter, and I’ve seen how the school closures have disrupted her learning and development.”

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Garcia also said Newsom poorly handled issues related to homelessness and housing affordability. Like many voting in favor of the recall, she blames the governor for the rise in homelessness and the high cost of living in California. But it wasn’t those issues that led Garcia to cast her ballot for Elder.

“I want someone who is a believer in the 1st Amendment, someone who will stand up for the constitution,” Garcia said. “I know Larry will.”

Conversely, 19-year-old Rosselin Alvarez, a student at Mount Saint Mary’s University, said she has been able to live in California only because of Newsom’s policies.

“He’s helped immigrants like me,” said the native of Nueva Santa Rosa, Guatemala.

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Alvarez said the Golden State stimulus checks have proved invaluable, along with health insurance aid for immigrants during the pandemic. She credited Newsom for “helping immigrants start and finish school.”

Alvarez said much of the criticism surrounding Newsom has been unjustly harsh. Like many other Democrats, Alvarez left the second question blank.

“He’s doing a pretty good job,” she said.

As the final hours of the historic recall election approach, here are five things to watch through election day and beyond.

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Santa Clarita

Connor O’Sullivan, 25, was happy the recall got to the ballot.

The Massachusetts native voted for Elder on Tuesday at the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall, citing his appreciation for the the GOP candidate’s conservative values.

“He stands for liberty and core American principles that I believe as well, that Newsom doesn’t,” he said.

O’Sullivan, an accountant, said Newsom’s coronavirus response was another key reason for his recall vote.

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“I think [Newsom] handled the pandemic terribly. I think taxes are crazy — I just don’t think he’s competent to run a state,” he said, noting that he disapproved of the governor’s closure of churches during the pandemic.

Rosa Frye-Boone, 73, felt similarly.

“This whole COVID-19 thing, I don’t think he handled it well,” she said of Newsom. “These masks, which we all know are useful, I’m not happy that he put himself first and us [Republicans] second. I feel like he’s not doing the job that we expect from him. A little too liberal for me.”

Weeks before Californians went to the polls, some right-wing activists — as well as leading GOP candidate Larry Elder — began sowing doubts about the integrity of the vote.

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Beverly Hills

Jason Greene said he felt great about voting to recall Newsom and install Elder. Statewide policies have been decided on what’s politically expedient and not what’s best for voters, he said.

“I don’t like how the state is being run,” he said. “Elder has more of a practical point of view.”

Another voter, Ashley, said she voted yes on the recall because she opposed mask mandates at her 2-year-old son’s mostly outdoor school. Ashley didn’t want her last name published because she didn’t “want to get shamed at my kid’s liberal school.”

She voted for Elder because she disagreed with Newsom’s policies during the pandemic and because of the increase in homelessness.

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“Things need to change,” she said.


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