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Essential Politics: Newsom’s big speech as the recall looms

Gov. Gavin Newsom seen speaking in Inglewood
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The political stakes for Gov. Gavin Newsom will be sky-high when he takes to the virtual airwaves Tuesday evening to deliver a statewide speech — just hours before some of his fiercest critics submit their final batch of signatures on petitions seeking his removal from office in a recall election.

Recall backers boasted Sunday of mission accomplished, though it will take several weeks for elections officials to examine the results of a campaign that now boasts of gathering some 1,950,000 voter signatures.

While it’s unlikely that Newsom will directly address the effort Tuesday in a speech officially billed as his annual State of the State address, the event may nonetheless feel like the kickoff of the campaign to keep his job.

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State of the State, live from L.A.

Newsom’s office has not disclosed much about the State of the State address, only that it will be “a virtual presentation to the California Legislature from Los Angeles County” at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

History buffs will note that it was in L.A. that then-Gov. Pat Brown delivered the first annual address to be called a “State of the State” event. His speech on Jan. 6, 1962, is remembered for the announcement that California would overtake New York by year’s end as the nation’s most populous state.

Perhaps Newsom will borrow a pinch of Brown’s optimism for what’s on the horizon — in this case, hopefulness about improving public health conditions and the state passing the 10 million mark in COVID-19 vaccinations.

But like his Democratic forerunner, who was already sparring with Republican hopeful Richard Nixon in what became an electoral slugfest that fall, Newsom surely has to hope the speech gives him a much-needed political boost.

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Not that his approach to governing hasn’t already had an infusion of campaign-style politics. Newsom has filled his schedule in recent days with back-to-back appearances at COVID-19 vaccination sites across California, often joined by Democratic officials who praise his pandemic response efforts.

But his best chance to capture the public’s attention will come Tuesday night, right in the middle of the evening news on local TV stations across the state.

The governor will undoubtedly tout last week’s enactment of a $6.6-billion plan to coax more elementary schools to reopen their campuses for at least a few days of in-person instruction. Californians who tune in may also hear about his administration’s decision to relax restrictions on sporting events and amusement parks.

But should Newsom also address anger over his miscues? While vaccinations are accelerating in many communities, there are problems that remain unresolved. One glaring issue is the reluctance of many California counties to sign contracts with Blue Shield, selected by the Newsom administration to oversee all vaccine distribution in the state.

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The tone of the State of the State may also be key. During a visit to Stockton last week, the once boastful Newsom hinted at his recent struggles to put consistent coronavirus policies into practice.

“You know, my word of the year is humility,” he said.

Recall advocates wrap their signature drive

Backers of the growing recall movement are unlikely to accept Newsom’s promise to be more chastened.

“Californians are consistently becoming more disgruntled with how their state’s run,” Mike Netter, one of the proponents of the recall campaign, said during an event in Sacramento on Sunday.

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On Wednesday, the campaign led by Netter and Orrin Heatlie plans to largely wrap its almost 13-month effort to gather enough valid signatures for a recall ballot measure to qualify. California law sets the bar at voter signatures equal to 12% of the total votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election — in this instance, that’s 1,495,709 signatures. The official deadline for their effort to be completed is March 17.

So how many signatures do they have? The 1,950,000 number cited Sunday is about 240,000 more than campaign officials reported in mid-February they had in hand. Campaign officials say they’ve been using an outside company to check the voter signatures and addresses before sending the documents to elections officials.

That may help explain why the most recent report released by Secretary of State Shirley Webershowing about 1 million signatures submitted as of early February — also reported that almost 84% of the signatures were deemed valid. That kind of accuracy, if it holds, puts the recall campaign in a good position to make it across the finish line by this month’s deadline. Elections officials have until late April to verify the signatures.

Although Newsom has steadfastly avoided talking about the recall effort, his supporters are starting to speak out. On Monday, a group of Black Democratic officials — led by Reps. Karen Bass and Barbara Lee — is scheduled to hold an event calling out the recall effort as a Republican-led one.

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Heatlie told reporters Sunday that almost one-third of the voters who have signed the petition aren’t Republicans, though that suggests two-thirds of the signatories are Republican voters.

But the campaign to retain or remove Newsom is still a ways away. Elections offices in the state’s 58 counties have until April 29 to complete their review of the recall petitions. If the pro-recall groups are successful, Newsom will become only the second governor in California history and the fourth in U.S. history to face a recall election.

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Stimulus plan back to the House

The House of Representatives is expected to give final approval this week to a $1.9-trillion pandemic stimulus plan that would offer financial assistance to struggling Americans and a variety of businesses and industries, while also boosting the coffers of cash-strapped state and local governments.

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Passage by the Senate on Saturday came after last-minute wrangling over new unemployment benefits, the number of Americans who will be eligible for pandemic-related cash payments and the House’s effort to include a federal minimum wage increase in the plan.

“This is the longest extension of benefits possible,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) of the final compromise. “This is not everything I would have written. This is the best that can be done for people hurting now.”

President Biden could sign the proposal into law by week’s end.

National lightning round

— So who will get a $1,400 check from the new stimulus package?

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— A former aide in former President Trump‘s State Department has been charged with participating in the deadly Capitol siege and assaulting police.

— Minneapolis is on edge as the first officer accused of killing George Floyd goes on trial.

— The top two Democrats in New York’s Legislature withdrew their support for Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday amid mounting allegations of sexual harassment and undercounting COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.

— Opponents of coronavirus restrictions burned masks Saturday in cities across Idaho, saying health safeguards infringe on their constitutional rights.

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— Biden’s bind: dismantling Trump immigration policies without sparking a border rush.

— GOP politicians in roughly two dozen states have introduced bills that would allow for civil lawsuits against social media platforms for what they call the “censorship” of posts.

— A new executive order from Biden directs federal agencies to take a series of steps to promote voting access, a move that comes as congressional Democrats press for a sweeping bill to counter efforts to restrict voter access.

Today’s essential California politics

— Representatives for Walgreens and CVS dispute Newsom’s recent characterization that the state removed COVID-19 doses due to the companies’ poor vaccination performance.

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— Millions of California workers are staring down the pandemic with no clear access to an economic safety net if they take time off, a situation that is deepening the state’s COVID-19 crisis and galvanizing policymakers to extend sick-leave mandates.

— California’s high poverty rate, low wages and frayed public safety net require a new “social compact” between workers, business and government, according to a report by a blue-ribbon commission that highlights the state’s widening inequality.

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