Column: Good news for Gavin Newsom — California is no longer the place it was in 2003

Former California Gov. Gray Davis and current Gov. Gavin Newsom.
California is much changed since former Gov. Gray Davis, left, was recalled in 2003. Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a similar attempt.
(Associated Press)

A lot has happened in 18 years. A war in Iraq. Two impeachments. Four presidents. Five “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

And here we are again facing a gubernatorial recall election, the second in California history and only the fourth attempted anywhere in the U.S. (It hasn’t been officially certified. But a fall referendum on the future of Gavin Newsom seems about as certain as the water supply dwindling between now and September.)

California is a much different place than it was in 2003, the last time voters decided whether to give the state’s chief executive the heave-ho.


The population is older than it was, housing costs are higher, and millions more people live here. (Exodus, schmexodus.) Perhaps most significant, California has become considerably more Democratic.

Every election is different. So, too, are the roots of the two recall efforts.

The election of those celebrities were an exception. In California, political experience tends to win.

April 26, 2021

Democrat Gray Davis was blamed for mishandling an electricity crisis that, it turns out, was caused in good part by profiteers and corrupt Texas energy traders. (It didn’t help that Davis was not particularly well liked to begin with and was only grudgingly awarded a second term.)

Newsom’s circumstances are different. He was elected in a landslide and stood on politically solid ground until lockdowns and the upheaval caused by COVID-19 catalyzed efforts to force a vote on the Democrat’s performance a year ahead of the regularly scheduled 2022 election.

One constant: The French Laundry restaurant is still catering to the rich and epicurean, as it did 18 years ago, though no one cared back then if a politician showed up for a masks-off birthday party. Newsom’s ill-considered November visit is what pushed the languishing recall drive into high gear.

The French Laundry restaurant's kitchen window
Back in 2003, the French Laundry was just a restaurant and not a political catalyst.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s a statistical snapshot of California then and now, showing how much the state has changed since the last recall election. Some figures are for 2019 or 2020, the last years for which complete data are available.


A shoutout to folks at the state Department of Finance for their research assistance.


2003: 35 million

White non-Latino, 45%; Latino 34%; Asian American/Pacific Islander, 12%; Black non-Latino, 6%

2021: 40 million

White non-Latino, 38%; Latino 40%; Asian American/Pacific Islander, 14%, Black non-Latino, 6%

Median age

2003: 34

2021: 38

Median age of mothers having their first child

2003: 28

2021: 31

Registered voters

2003: 15 million

44% Democratic, 35% Republican, 21% no party preference/other

2021: 22 million

46% Democratic, 24% Republican, 30% no party preference/other


2003: Gray Davis, Democrat (reelected in November 2002 with 47% of the vote)

2021: Gavin Newsom, Democrat (elected in November 2018 with 62% of the vote)

Statewide elected officials (8 total)

2003: 7 Democrats, 1 Republican

2021: 8 Democrats, 0 Republicans

U.S. House delegation (53 members)

2003: 33 Democrats, 20 Republicans

2021: 42 Democrats, 11 Republicans

State Senate (40 members)

2003: 25 Democrats, 15 Republicans

2021: 31 Democrats, 9 Republicans

State Assembly (80 members)

2003: 48 Democrats, 32 Republicans

2021: 58 Democrats, 19 Republicans, 1 independent, 2 vacancies

Economic ranking, worldwide

2003: 7th largest

2019: 5th largest


2003: 6.9%

2020: 10.2%

Median sale price for existing homes

2003: $371,520

2020: $659,380

Hollywood Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles
The median sale price for a home in California was $659,380 in 2020, though neighborhoods like Hollywood Heights are much pricier.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Minimum wage

2003: $6.25 an hour

2021: $14 an hour ($13 for businesses with 25 or fewer employees)

Median household income (adjusted for inflation)

2003: $60,978

2019: $73,226

Average price of gasoline

2003: $1.83 a gallon

2020: $3.05 a gallon

Average commute time

2003: 27 minutes

2019: 31 minutes

Biggest corporations (Fortune 500, by annual revenue)

2003: ChevronTexaco; Hewlett Packard; McKesson; Safeway; Wells Fargo

2020: Apple; Alphabet (Google); Chevron; Wells Fargo; Intel

Efforts to oust the Democratic governor amount to a revolt by discontented conservative state residents.

April 13, 2021

Oscar for best picture

2003: “Chicago”

2021: “Nomadland”

Actress Francis McDormand
Frances McDormand accepts the Academy Award for best actress for her role in “Nomadland.”
(Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

Biggest domestic box-office hit

2003: “Finding Nemo,” $339,714,184

2021: “Godzilla vs. Kong,” $90,300,000 (through Sunday)

Grammy, song of the year

2003: “Don’t Know Why,” Norah Jones

2021: “I Can’t Breathe,” H.E.R.

The attempted recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom will go before voters on Sept. 14. Here are the details.

Sept. 14, 2021