Editorial: California’s rejection of the recall validated Newsom and his pandemic protections

California Gov. Gavin Newsom responds to a question while meeting with reporters
Gov. Gavin Newsom responds to a question while meeting with reporters after casting his recall ballot at a voting center in Sacramento, Sept. 10.

Gov. Gavin Newsom had to face a recall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he survived the recall, in part, because of his pandemic response, including his support for masking and vaccine mandates. The validation from Californians should send a powerful message that voters want leaders who embrace science and are willing to impose public health measures to bring the pandemic to an end.

The recall election would not have qualified for the ballot without the pandemic. Indeed, recall proponents were struggling to gather enough signatures to meet the deadline when a judge gave organizers a four-month extension because of the public health emergency. Those four months corresponded with one of the darkest periods of the pandemic, with cases rising, the economy tanking and no end in sight. People were scared, tired and angry — and Newsom’s foolish decision to go maskless at a lobbyist’s birthday party at the pricey French Laundry restaurant only fueled their anger.

But the outrage that helped launch the recall in 2020 wasn’t enough to oust Newsom in 2021. While there were plenty of people who said they marked “yes” on the recall ballot because they were frustrated with how Newsom handled the crisis, from lockdowns and school closures, and they opposed masking and mandatory vaccines, those voters proved to be in the minority.


Rather, in exit polls and interviews, many voters said they rejected the recall because COVID-19 remained their overriding concern and they supported rules and policies to combat the virus. And no wonder.

Here we are, a year-and-a-half after the first lockdowns, and communities across the country are experiencing high death tolls, overcrowded hospitals and rising case numbers — driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, which is causing younger, healthier people to get sick. Safe and effective vaccines have been widely available since the spring, yet the U.S. still hasn’t reached herd immunity because so many Americans refuse to get the shots.

California, meanwhile, is finally showing signs of improvement. Coronavirus transmission rates are dropping, thanks to relatively high vaccination rates — 82% of eligible Californians have had at least one shot — and indoor masking. California schools have reopened, and students are wearing masks in class, without the brawls seen in other states.

So it’s a hopeful sign that voters overwhelmingly rejected the recall and candidates who pledged to reverse California’s progress on COVID-19. Indeed, the leading recall candidate said he would roll back local and state vaccine and masking requirements, effectively going the way of Texas and Florida, where cases and deaths are surging.

Newsom deserved to keep his job. He has been a strong leader during an extraordinarily difficult time. He listened to health experts, followed the ever-evolving science and worked hard to craft policies that would protect public health and the state’s economy. Of course, he made mistakes along the way and we disagreed with some of his decisions, such as not being more forceful in reopening public schools earlier.

Leaders should be judged on their ability to respond in a crisis and learn from their missteps. Newsom has shown he can do both. With the recall election behind him and public support for the mission, Newsom can now be focused on responding to and recovering from the pandemic.