Editorial: Not everything Newsom does is a response to the recall

Dr. Mark Ghaly and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Dr. Mark Ghaly, California Health and Human Services secretary, gives Gov. Gavin Newsom a COVID-19 vaccine at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles on April 1.
(Damian Dovarganes/ Associated Press )

For the next few months, it’s likely that every public appearance, policy decision or utterance made by Gov. Gavin Newsom will be dogged by speculation that he is doing X, Y or Z only because of the anticipated recall election this fall.

That was the case this week when Newsom announced his plan to lift all pandemic-related business restrictions on June 15, provided that COVID-19 hospitalization rates stay low and there are no hiccups in the pace of vaccinations. Those who have been pushing the recall immediately crowed that Newsom was talking about fully reopening the state in June only because of the recall, which has yet to be qualified by election officials but probably will be soon. Without the threat of removal, some said, he wouldn’t have moved to reopen at all.

That’s a good tweet, but it just doesn’t make any sense. Even without a recall hanging over his head, the governor has nothing to gain politically from keeping the state in lockdown too long — if anything, he has an incentive to lift the restrictions too quickly, as was the case last spring. And the indications are that we are nearing the point when the limits will no longer be necessary.

Did the recall have anything to do with Newsom’s reopening announcement? Who knows? It’s surely on his mind. Maybe it figured into the decision to share his administration’s thinking about what might be possible in two months. Maybe it didn’t. Newsom and his team have been making pandemic timeline announcements for the last year — starting long before the recall was anything more than a pipe dream of a few die-hard right-wingers.


Since pondering the unknowable is pointless, it’s best just to examine the policy its own merits. Predicting an end to the restrictions two months hence seems entirely in keeping with the current trajectory of the pandemic in California and the pace of vaccinations. After a bleak winter, the state now has the lowest case rates in the nation, and it just marked 20 million COVID-19 vaccinations administered, 4 million specifically in the hardest-hit communities. Los Angeles, the state’s COVID-19 hot spot during the winter surge, has moved to the next-to-least restrictive pandemic tier, as have most other counties. And while there are still pockets of low vaccination and higher infection rates, top health officials believe California is likely to escape the kind of brutal fourth wave now underway in a few states.

If this isn’t the time to make an optimistic prediction that could give Californians hope for the near-term future, then when would be?

There’s a value to signaling a clear end point beyond boosting morale. For one thing, it gives the public a concrete reason to keep practicing safety measures and to get vaccinated as soon as they can. Also, it’s helpful to businesses that have been shuttered or operating on reduced capacity to have a specific date on the calendar to prepare for a full reopening. Administration officials say that the businesses community has been asking for some predictability so that it can better plan. Is that recall pandering, or just good governance?

Furthermore, the 10-week reopening timeline seems consistent with this administration’s character. Newsom and his team have been cautious — overly cautious in some cases — in lifting restrictions after a disastrously premature reopening last spring that precipitated a summer surge of COVID-19 cases. Some other governors have been far less risk-averse. In March, for example, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott claimed that “state mandates are no longer needed,” even though the Lone Star State hadn’t vaccinated a significant percentage of its population, and lifted them all the next week.

Also, the state’s mask mandate will stay in place even after the other restrictions have been lifted to protect those who can’t be vaccinated, primarily children under 16, while many other governors have abandoned this sensible measure.

It’s impossible to know if Newsom would be doing things differently if the recall effort had fizzled, as so many previous attempts had. And so what? It’s safe to assume that every elected official is motivated to some degree by the desire to keep her or his job though the next election, be that in a few months or a few years.