Gov. Gavin Newsom and his GOP rivals have inundated California voters with worrisome visions of the state's future should the “other side” win. Newsom’s approach might turn out to be the right one if he pulls off a victory.
In the end, columnist Joe Mathews says it’ll be an ugly win with damaging effects for the state. He wishes Newsom would have taken a different approach by embracing the recall.
Op-ed column by Joe Mathews
This is the speech that Gov. Gavin Newsom should have given during the recall campaign.
This recall is strange. But there’s one recall that’s even stranger.
That’s the recall Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants. He’s demanding a national vote on whether he himself should be removed from office.
When I first heard about this self-recall, I laughed. Then I asked myself: What constitutes victory when you seek to recall yourself? When your self-recall succeeds and you are forced out, or when the people insist you remain in office?
Then it hit me: A self-recall is the ultimate win-win (which is why Lopez Obrador’s opponents won’t give him a vote.) So why didn’t I think of this self-recall thing first?
In retrospect, you could make the case that I should have welcomed the recall. I could have said that this isn’t the governorship I promised you, or the governorship I imagined. More than 65,000 Californians are dead of COVID-19. School closures have damaged our children. Businesses and jobs have been lost. I’ve done my best to respond in big, creative ways. When I’ve screwed up, I’ve tried to fix my mistakes. My fellow Californians are my boss, and they have every right to make a change.
Honestly, if I had to do it again, I would have embraced the recall right after the French Laundry news broke. Perhaps I could have robbed the recall of its momentum if I had said: I take the blame for all the state’s problems. Now let’s focus on solving them.
Instead, I’ve added to the political conflict that is making it so hard to get everyone vaccinated and to convince people across the spectrum to come together to address the crises we face.
While my negative campaign seems likely to help me survive this vote, it’s been a mistake to attack the motives of those who support the recall. The more than 1.7 million Californians who signed petitions are not all Trumpers acting in bad faith. They are our neighbors, and we need them now — as partners in ending the pandemic.
I also regret discouraging any of my fellow Democrats from running to succeed me. I love California, and this state’s success means more to me than my own career, which is why I should have recruited a candidate of my own to run as my replacement. I should have given my supporters a clear choice on the second question on the ballot, and that should have been the person I would most trust to lead this state, if the majority of voters no longer want me doing the job.
My messaging around the recall and the contest to replace me has helped poison this election, making it harder to achieve the higher turnout I need to keep the governorship. When you tell people an election is illegitimate, it’s harder to get them to vote in it.
Let me close with one argument for voting no, and keeping me in office, that you probably haven’t heard. But it’s the one that touches my own lived reality.
The truth is that my own life will be better if I get recalled. I could give up the endless headaches of dealing with California’s many crises and go back to my fabulous home and loving family (who will no longer get criticized for their every masked or unmasked move). I’ll have no shortage of opportunities to make even more money in various business ventures across this state. If I am recalled by a tiny margin, and my Republican replacement is ineffective and unpopular, I could attempt a political comeback — perhaps even in next year’s gubernatorial election.
I understand that many of you want to punish me. But if that’s your goal, recalling me isn’t the best way to do it. The harshest punishment you could hand down would be to keep me in this crazy job, to force me to keep governing an ungovernable state, and to make me continue to preside over a California apocalypse that never ends.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.