Gavin Newsom, Larry Elder and California’s Recall – Opinion: Potomac Watch – WSJ

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This transcript was prepared by a transcription service. This version may not be in its final form and may be updated.

Speaker 1: From the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, this is Potomac Watch.

Kyle Peterson: California goes to the polls as Governor Gavin Newsome faces a recall election. What’s at stake, and does the recall movement have a shot? Welcome I’m Kyle Peterson with the Wall Street Journal. We’re joined today by my colleagues, editorial board member, Allysia Finley and editorial writer Jason Willick.
Nineteen states allow recall elections, but this is not an everyday occurrence. And particularly with a high office like a governor, Gavin Newsome is only the fourth governor in U.S. history to face a recall vote. And the only one of those governors that survived was Scott Walker in 2012. But the polls today suggests Newsome might become the second.
And Jason, I guess the place to start is with the process today. It’s sort of an odd two-part ballot. Can you explain how that works?

Jason Willick: Sure. So the first question that voters have to answer is yes or no on the recall. So yes or no, do you want Gavin Newsome to continue being Governor of California? If more than half of people vote to recall him, he’s out, and then you move on to the next question. And the next question is who do you want the replacement to be?
And there are dozens of candidates, and you select one, the leading candidate is Larry Elder, who’s showing up at about 22% in the polls. So it’s a weird situation where if more than 50% voted to recall Newsome, then he could be replaced by somebody who gets far fewer than 50% of votes in the next question. So it’s a two-part question. Yes or no. On the recall, if you got 50%, he’s out and then it’s just the highest vote getter on the next question takes his place.

Kyle Peterson: Yeah. And that does lead to some strangeness, and particularly because people who vote no on the recall, I wonder if there are a good number of them that don’t fill out the second part of the ballot. They’d say no to recall, so they’re not going to pick one of those candidates on the second part of the list. And that leads to some additional strangeness and unpredictability it seems to me in these results.
And another quirk of course of this California recall system is the low bar for people to get on the ballot. I believe in this case, there are 46 candidates that can be chosen from on the second part if Gavin Newsome has recalled. And the leading Republican to replace Newsome is Larry Elder.
Allysia, you interviewed him for a Journal interview back in August. Just give us a sense of who he is and what his pitch to voters has been.

Allysia Finley: So he’s been a radio talk show host and on the local and actually national markets for the last 30 or so years. He’s very well known. He probably began talking a lot about welfare and how the destructive effects on families, particularly the Black community. But he’s really expanded and has been focusing at least in recent years, much more on the California problems, homelessness, lousy schools.
He talks a little bit, speaks to some national issues like immigration, but really has been focusing on the day to day problems that a lot of Californians are seeing in their lives, especially as he said, homelessness, rising energy costs, gasoline prices.
So he’s a well-known figure in the state in which makes him probably the most likely candidate to replace Newsome if voters were to recall him. That’s still a question that’s up in the air. And I think polls do show that Newsome has pulled ahead, but, Larry Elder has definitely made Newsome, elevated the recall and the stakes in it.

Kyle Peterson: Yeah. COVID 19 and the state lockdown policies, I think, is also part of the debate that’s been going on. And particularly it seems to me, Jason, that that was something that helped push the recall petition over the top. I think it was 1.5 million signatures that were required to get this recall on the ballot. And I mean, if Gavin Newsome hadn’t been photographed there at the French Laundry, eating dinner at a party in violation of his own COVID protocols, I’m not sure that they would have gotten those 1.5 million signatures.

Jason Willick: Yeah. And just some background on the recall and California democracy. California is sort of known as a pioneer of direct democracy, going back a hundred years to the progressive era when it started to have these ballot measures or legislation just voted on directly by voters.
And the recall is sort of conceived in that tradition of let’s give voters more direct say. Let’s bypass traditional processes to give voters more direct control over their governance so that they can replace the governor even between regularly scheduled elections every four years.
So you did have this outpouring of anger and discontent, and California’s a super majority democratic state, but you had a very mobilized minority of Republican voters, especially outside of the major metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. You go outside of those areas and California looks like a much redder state.
So you have lots of people angry about the general trends in California, including as Allysia mentioned, homelessness, a sense that these coastal areas are prospering at the expense of the rest of the state, crime, immigration, and then COVID may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back and really motivated signatures for this recall because it became a cultural issue.
And Gavin Newsome was seen as aloof. But I think that as Allysia mentioned, they’ve now really managed to turn the tide. Gavin Newsome has managed to turn the tide, including on COVID and saying Larry Elder doesn’t know how to manage COVID, and there may be a minority of Californians that are angry about Newsome’s draconian lockdowns, but if we elect Larry Elder, COVID is going to rip through the state and it’s going to be out of control.
So I agree that COVID has been a big part of it, but it’s also a culmination of trends in California for decades.

Kyle Peterson: Allysia, do you have any other thoughts on Gavin Newsome’s COVID response, I guess, what he’s done over the past year and a half and how that debate is playing out in the context of this recall?

Allysia Finley: Well, I think voters were initially really upset with the lockdowns. As you guys both mentioned that the French Laundry dinner, the contradiction and the hypocrisy, and then he a few weeks later, he banned outdoor dining. And I think shortly thereafter, cases started surging anyways. Right? And they didn’t it really matter what Newsome did, the lockdown.
California had one of the highest or biggest surges in the winter. Things kind of receded as vaccines rolled out, and California relative to other states, a lot of other states during the summer, hasn’t been hit as hard as for example, Florida or Texas. And Newsome is kind of taking credit for that and saying his policies.
And he has actually rescinded almost all the lockdown policies and the mask mandates, but he has required that healthcare workers get vaccinated. He has required that nursing home workers be vaccinated, as well. And some local school districts do require masks for students.
And so he’s kind of been pointing to what’s the problems in Texas and Florida and saying, “Well, if you elect Elder or if you recall me, that’s going to happen here.” And I think that has really scared voters, people who, didn’t support his lockdowns or are troubled by some other things happening in their states. They don’t want to go back to what happened during the winter.

Kyle Peterson: Hang tight. We’ll be right back. You’re listening to Potomac Watch from the Wall Street Journal.

Speaker 1: From the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, this is the Potomac Watch.

Kyle Peterson: Welcome back. So Jason, how much could a Republican governor in Sacramento really change? I mean, some of the things that Elder keeps talking about…

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