California counts cost of rare gubernatorial recall election
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Los Angeles (AFP)
It’s a $ 280 million taxpayer-funded election most Californians don’t want, and one that could see a candidate with just a handful of votes take the reins of the world’s fifth-largest economy.
California is voting on the recall of Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who won the U.S. state governorship by a landslide in 2018, and whose term expires next year anyway.
The suave San Francisco-born politician was forced to resume the election campaign early by a quirk of California’s “direct democracy” constitution that allowed Republicans to force Tuesday’s vote by collecting relatively few signatures.
It’s the same mechanism that brought Arnold Schwarzenegger – California’s last Republican governor – to power in 2003, sealing the reputation of the state that houses Hollywood as a place where anything is possible in politics.
The good news for Newsom is that the sun-drenched liberal stronghold has become even more democratic since the ‘Terminator’ star’s remarkable triumph nearly two decades ago, making a repeat unlikely.
There’s no one with the larger-than-life profile of Schwarzenegger this time around – despite the presence of reality TV celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, the lead contender is conservative radio host Larry Elder.
But while Newsom continues to enjoy good approval ratings, the attempt to oust him has already progressed more than many analysts expected, and his camp is yet to relax.
This is in part due to the odd structure of the recall vote. Newsom must win more than half of the votes in the first question of the ballot: “Should Gavin Newsom be recalled?” – to stay in power.
If unsuccessful, his replacement would simply need to win the most votes among 46 predominantly Republican candidates.
“It is almost impossible for a Republican to win a direct election for governor. It is a side route to governorship,” said Jim Newton, professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“We are faced with the possibility that 49% of Californians will vote for Gavin Newsom, and lose to someone who gets 18 or 19%,” Newton said.
“It’s ridiculous. I mean, it’s a structural flaw in the recall.”
– “Arrogance” –
With a turnout that could determine the outcome, Newsom is expected to benefit from the pandemic-imposed practice of sending ballots to all registered voters. There’s also no limit on fundraising donations, allowing unions and entertainment moguls to flood Newsom’s coffers.
But the governor faces handicaps of his own making.
In November, Newsom was pictured without a mask at a dinner with lobbyists at the lavish French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, flouting his own Covid orders.
The images have become infamous, especially among small business owners forced to shut down by pandemic restrictions.
The damage was compounded by reports that Newsom was celebrating the birthday of an associate with creditors ties to PG&E, the utility company blamed for the record-breaking fires that are again choking large swathes of California this summer. .
“The arrogance of ‘pay-to-play’ is incredible,” said Anne Dunsmore, director of the pro-recall campaign “Rescue California”, which considers the meal “a big uh-oh” that Democrats do. have not taken seriously For months.
Reminder supporters are eager to point out a large litany of multi-party grievances against Newsom, including the state’s serious homelessness problem, sky-high cost of living and massive unemployment fraud against Covid that has cost billions to California taxpayers.
But overall, the vote remains “to a large extent a referendum on Gavin Newsom’s handling of Covid,” Newton said.
While a majority of Californians approve of Newsom’s practical response, which included the nation’s first statewide lockdown, “this is a very difficult time to be incumbent.”
– ‘Frivolous’ –
With 40 million people – the most of any U.S. state – California would be a hugely symbolic scalp to Republicans preparing for next year’s mid-terms in Congress.
Any new governor could repeal the mask and vaccine mandates, and even tip the scales in the U.S. Senate by appointing a Republican if 88-year-old Dianne Feinstein left her long-serving seat.
Yet with a predominantly Democratic legislature in place and the election of another governor slated for November 2022, which a Democrat – potentially Newsom – would almost certainly win, any impact could be limited.
This has led a lot to think about the merits of the whole affair.
A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 69 percent of potential California voters believe the special election is a waste of money.
“It’s extraordinarily expensive for the state, it’s very disruptive for the governance of the state,” said Democratic strategist Bill Carrick.
“There has to be careful consideration of the process… there has to be stronger protections against having something that turns out to be frivolous on the ballot.”
© 2021 AFP