A campaign to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom claims to have collected more than 1.2 million signatures from Californians, mostly out of Orange County. KCRW talks with regular contributor Gustavo Arellano about the recall efforts.
KCRW: Who’s behind this recall effort?
Gustavo Arellano: “Anyone who fits into the rogues galleries of Orange County Republicans. So now you have honorary chairs ranging from the current OC GOP chair Fred Whittaker to former OC GOP chairs, Supervisor Don Wagner, former Anaheim Mayor Kirk Pringle, even going back into the old school like Dick Ackerman, who used to be a state senator from Fullerton.”
The LA Times reported that the campaign “allied with radical and extreme elements early on to help collect signatures.” What do you know about that?
“They're following the Orange County GOP playbook going back to the 1960s. The 1960s Birchers were the anti-immigrant zealots of the 90s, are the QAnons … of today. … But it's not surprising at all.
… The leaders behind the recall will say, ‘Well, there's not really anything we could do. We have a broad coalition of people who are supporting this recall.’ But of course, what they're not doing is condemning some of these wacko views of some of the very organizers within the ranks. It's not just people signing the petition. It's actual organizers who have some of these beliefs.”
The group behind the effort says they have 1.2 million signatures and they need to get to 1.5 million by March 17. Are they going to get there?
“A lot of people do not like [Governor] Newsom. And it's not just conservatives [who don’t like him, it’s also] liberals [and] progressives. Newsom blew it for himself forever when he went to the French Laundry and violated [four] points of his stay-at-home. He didn't stay at home, he ate with people who are not members of his family, he ate indoors, and he ate without a mask. So I wouldn't discount it.
… People have been trying to recall Newsom almost from the moment he entered office and all of those failed miserably. This is the one that not only has a fighting chance, but it’s either going to make it or be very, very close.”
If the recall gains enough signatures, it would be during an off-year election. And people who have skin in the game tend to do better in off-year elections than when everybody votes and everybody's paying attention, right?
“If it gets to a recall, I do think Newsom will be recalled just because he really doesn't have many fans right now. But the problem with the advocates for the recall is who would be his replacements? Because there's nobody in the GOP who could possibly win a statewide election. The closest would be former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who's somewhat moderate.
But I bet you if they take out Newsom, there's going to be a Democrat who's going to be even more progressive than him who would beat Faulconer in a heartbeat. So be careful what you wish for, as the old proverb goes, because it just might come true.”
Some Democrats got in trouble for calling the insurrection on the Capitol a coup. There was a lot of back-and-forth finger pointing going, ‘Hey, look, you can't call that a coup.’ The initiative and referendum process is legal in California. And you can recall a governor, should that be necessary. But how seriously are Democrats taking this?
“They're starting to take it seriously. Calling it a coup was just absolutely dumb. And it's typical democrats underestimating their opponents, overestimating their abilities, and then shooting themselves not just in the foot but also on the tongue, as well. Newsom is saying, ‘Oh, I'm not even focusing on that. I'm just focusing on coronavirus or whatnot.’ But you're starting to hear the chatter, people are knowing that this [recall] is going to get close. So we have to govern a little bit better, or at least not eat at the French Laundry anymore.”
Do you think this is why we're seeing the state drop the stay-at-home orders?
Do you think it has to do with the fact that Newsom has this intense political pressure?
“Yeah, I do think so. I know Newsom is saying, ‘We're seeing projections and cases are going down in California.’ And they have been for the past couple of weeks, but coronavirus is still out there.
Newsom needs some sort of publicity that's good for him, any sort of publicity. So leaving it to the counties to decide whether people can dine outside, he thinks it's going to be a win-win, but the people who hate him, they're not going to care. Blood is in the water for them. So they're going to go out there, try to recall him and get him out of California politics forever.
And of course, the sad part with this is that during the summer, people [were out in Orange County] protesting against lockdowns and whatnot, and Newsom somewhat unscrewed the mandates and, of course, cases went up. So just be careful, Newsom. Do not take the recall unseriously [sic]. … You still have to govern the state and you still have to govern for the state's future, not just your future.”