THE HUTCHINSON REPORT
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Just why did California Gov. Gavin Newsom draw voter fire? The short answer is two-fold.
One, the Republican Party cannot, barring a miracle, win a statewide office in California, where they are seen by some as on the verge of extinction. Republicans barely make up a quarter of the state’s voters.
The other answer is that California is still by far the political national jewel in the crown. It is the biggest, most populous and wealthiest state. It is the runaway trendsetter in social, cultural and political affairs for the rest of the nation.
It isn’t a case of how California goes, so goes the nation, but it’s close. The recall then is the only way the Republican Party has a prayer of gaining a statewide office. And what better one to try and snatch through the backdoor, than the governorship?
The GOP can then muck up, roil and skewer public policy in the state, while providing mountains of talking points for the media and the nation.
The recall though wasn’t totally a Republican Machiavellian manufactured plot. There were a whole lot of California voters who weren’t happy with certain things about Newsom and they weren’t all right-wing Republicans.
The COVID pandemic was a trigger point. Newsom got generally glowing marks from many quarters for his handling of it, with his shutdown order, the mandatory mask requirement, pressing for vaccines, and so on. However, as the business closings and the pandemic itself dragged on, many started screaming that Newsom’s mandatory closure was crippling small and medium-sized businesses. There were marches, demonstrations and lawsuits.
Then there were the perennial gripes that the Republicans hit every Democratic governor and state official with. That is, they give the company store away to illegal immigrants. They outrageously hike taxes and spend taxpayer money like there’s no tomorrow.
Many voters are always hyper-sensitive to crime issues. Newsom didn’t help his case with them when he announced there would be a unilateral moratorium on the death penalty on his watch.
Then there was the famed incident at a French restaurant with Newsom huddled in a private room with friends, many unmasked. At the same moment, he’d been on the soapbox for months demanding masks and avoidance of closed places such as restaurants.
There was also the widespread perception that Newsom hob-knobbed a little too much with the rich, chic and elite.
These were motivating even inflaming issues for many, finally compelling enough to get the rare recall petition on the ballot. Newsom, though, would have been a ripe target even if he was the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
If the GOP could get the top state executive in a recall dogfight, it would serve to gum up the political works in the nation’s leading Democratic state.
That would have colossal media, and political value. A Republican governor stacking state boards and agencies with his appointees, proposing and fighting with the state Legislature on his or her initiatives and legislation, and having the nation’s most populated and richest state as a bully pulpit for his or her rightist views would be worth its weight in political gold.
The winner would have one more hammer to hold over Democrats that would have immediate national consequences. They would be able to appoint a U.S. senator if 88-year-old Senator Diane Feinstein, due to health or age reasons, chooses to step down.
That would immediately give control of the U.S. Senate back to the Republicans.
No matter which way it went, the recall accomplished a prime aim and that was to force the Democrats to raise tens of millions of dollars on the campaign, compel them to scramble and defend their record and caused much dissension and division among California voters.
They are asking about high taxes, soaring homelessness and rising crime and what the Democrats are doing about it, other than taxing everyone and catering to their corporate donors.
Republicans are banks on something else. Voter turnout.
Democrats often do notoriously poor in turning out their base — Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, LGBT and young persons — in off-year elections. The recall is the softest of soft off-year elections.
Conversely, Republicans do well by comparison in mobilizing their base. They are whiter, older, conservative, rural, non-college-educated blue-collar workers and small businesspersons. They will show up at the polls and often show up with enthusiasm.
The massive gap in the number of Democratic voters versus Republican voters is two to one. But that’s just numbers on paper. Unless those numbers can be translated into a Democratic stampede to the polls, they are meaningless.
That is a worrisome issue for Democratic organizations that are imploring Democrats through floods of emails, appeals and articles of the danger of a right-wing Republican running the Capitol show. They implored Democrats to get their ballots stamped “no” in big numbers.
The recall, then, is more than just about getting rid of a Democratic governor. It reflects the deep polarization and non-stop near irreconcilable power fight between Republican and Democrats over the law, public policy and governance in America. Newsom just happened to be the latest casualty of that titanic struggle.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “I’m Mad as Hell—Making Sense of the California Recall” (Hutchinson Ebooks). He also is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.