Editorial: Frustrated with Newsom? We get it. Removing him will make things worse
There are Californians who would prefer to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom with Larry Elder, John Cox, Kevin Kiley or some other Republican, because they prefer the right-wing ideology those candidates represent.
But there aren’t enough of those Californians for the recall to succeed. If it does, it will be because they are joined by voters of all stripes who might be indifferent to Newsom but are angry, frustrated and fed up with where we find ourselves as a state. They may see voting “yes” on the recall as a way to vote “no” on the onslaught of emergencies and disasters we have faced over the last year and a half. They seek to register a loud vote against COVID-19, lockdowns, school closures, social distancing, homelessness, wildfires, heat waves, criminal justice reform, violent protests, water restrictions and dinners at the French Laundry. They may be weary of police brutality but also of police defunding. Tired of racial inequality but also of the rhetoric of racial justice. Tired of global warming but also of lectures about it.
They may want to blow up the whole mess and let someone else reassemble it. Throw the bums out and stick it to the Democratic Party, which has held every statewide office in California and a supermajority in the Legislature for years now and hasn’t managed to solve the state’s most pressing problems. (Never mind that those problems developed over decades, under both Democratic and Republican stewardship.)
This is a very California response, lifted directly from the Silicon Valley business playbook: disruption. It’s like Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg’s old motto: “Move fast and break things.” This recall is moving quickly toward finality, and the result could easily leave California fractured.
A rage-filled and nihilistic response is also reminiscent of the anti-system, anti-status-quo politics that brought us President Trump. Like Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, Newsom has been portrayed in right-wing media as effete, out of touch, even corrupt.
We plead with voters not to take a cavalier attitude. Don’t vote “yes” on the recall out of pique or the vague belief that something different, no matter what, will be something better. The Trump years broke things without fixing them. He didn’t address the larger structural challenges, like income inequality and economic immobility, that fueled voter dissatisfaction in the first place. And replacing Newsom won’t solve the problems of unaffordability, homelessness and extreme weather that so many Californians struggle with.
The recall isn’t a thought experiment. We will have to live with the results of this election for a year or more. This state is the world’s fifth-largest economy, ahead of India and the United Kingdom. What happens with California governance matters to the nation and the world.
And what about that economy? Contrary to the assertions of many of the candidates to replace Newsom, it’s incredibly strong, considering that we’ve been through the worst worldwide health crisis since the Spanish flu of 1918. Stay-at-home orders meant painful job losses and business closures, yet today California easily leads the nation in job growth and new small businesses. In a year in which many states saw their operating budgets tank, California had a mind-boggling surplus of $80 billion. Which part of that do we want to disrupt?
Nor does it seem like a good idea to switch to a more ideological approach to tackling COVID-19. California’s program of adapting to changing circumstances and deferring to local authorities likely held down infections and saved lives. COVID-era California has been nothing like the authoritarian cartoon version described by critics on Fox News, who lay out a vision of what they prefer — and it looks an awful lot like Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Florida, where COVID deaths are worse than ever, or Texas, where desperate local school officials are flouting Gov. Greg Abbott’s ideological bans on mask mandates. California schools have reopened, and students are wearing masks in class. Are we ready to backtrack on that progress because we’re angry that public schools closed last year?
Homelessness is up in part because of the pandemic, and the sensible response by local officials was to slow intervention efforts to hold down the spread of infection in congregate shelters. But with vaccines now available, local efforts to clear encampments have ramped up, and Newsom is the first governor to take on the issue in a meaningful way. Violent crime rose, also in part as a reaction to the social disruption of the pandemic, and the increase in California matched numbers in most other states, Republican as well as Democratic — and crime rates all over this state have begun to drop as COVID disruptions recede.
That’s the thing about disruption. If we could sweep away COVID, masks, fire, drought and all the rest of it by voting out the governor, we’d be first in line. But it’s hard to identify any candidate who represents a change for the better, or even a change for the not-too-terrible.
At the end of World War II, after Britain defeated Nazi Germany, Prime Minister Winston Churchill was voted out. In doing so, Britons were voting against the war and the death and depredation it brought. They were victorious but ready to move on. Churchill’s successor, Clement Attlee, brought revolutionary change to British society, with left-leaning reforms in housing, labor, industry, healthcare and welfare. Even today, British subjects who were born long afterward argue over whether that was the correct way to go — and, in fact, voters in the United Kingdom ousted Attlee and brought back Churchill a few years later. Sweeping change following hardship (and perhaps buyers’ remorse following the change) is not uncommon.
We certainly do not compare Newsom to Churchill. The point is that the victory over COVID and all the other disasters left over from 2020 is not yet accomplished. Stay the course.
The continuing pandemic and the hardships it has caused must be properly managed, and along with some prominent wrong turns, Newsom has done a better job of it than most U.S. governors. The proper time to consider replacing him is next year, when Newsom will seek a second full term. Not now. Not with a war against COVID going on.
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