Opinion: How Newsom got himself into this fine mess
Gavin Newsom might be asking himself these days, as Oliver Hardy first did in a 1930 film, how he got into this fine mess.
And Newsom truly is in trouble: One sometimes-accurate public poll in early August found voters favoring the firing of the governor by 11 percent, while most other surveys have that question too close to call.
How Newsom got here is really pretty simple. He made several very correct moves that some folks detested. Then he followed with a bunch of smaller ones almost no one could endorse.
The movement to recall California’s Democratic governor, elected in 2018 by a near-record 62 percent majority, really began in March 2020 with several vocal protests near the shoreline in Huntington Beach, where longtime anti-vaccination activists loudly objected to three mandates issued by the state health department ultimately commanded by Newsom.
They didn’t like being locked down, mostly confined to their homes. They hated having to wear masks. And they despised the admonition to maintain social distancing from anyone not in their own particular “pod” of everyday, almost constant contacts.
Anger began building even as those tactics most likely saved thousands of people from coronavirus infections and death early in the pandemic.
Newsom paid absolutely no attention to the protests. It was a sound public health move to stick to his guns, and other governors who followed his precedents never faced similar levels of anger. No one knows if Newsom could have defused some of the fury if he’d faced down the protesting crowds and dealt personally with their gripes. But his security team was said to have argued against that.
So the anger festered, eventually morphing into recall petitions about to come to a head in the fast-approaching Sept. 14 special election.
Failing to meet with the anti-maskers/anti-vaxxers may have been the first Newsom error. Of the others, perhaps the greatest was opting not to fight a court order giving recall sponsors four months longer than usual to gather signatures. Without that unprecedented extra time, Newsom likely would not face the ongoing recall vote.
His third big mistake may have been failing to heed advisors and others, including this column, who warned that by going on television almost every day for many months with the latest COVID-19 edicts and numbers, Newsom was converting himself into the very face of the coronavirus he has fought to defeat. Soon to be former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a similar public relations error.
Rather than merely dealing with loose anger, many unhappy Californians made the omnipresent, vastly overexposed Newsom the prime target for their feelings.
Then there was his failure to deal effectively with bureaucratic delays and billions of dollars worth of fraud at the state unemployment office. Many of the hundreds of thousands of pandemic-induced unemployed blamed Newsom for their sad financial condition, even though he worked hard for eviction moratoria and offered plenty of free funds to pay their back rent.
These were merely a few of the public policy and public relations errors guaranteed to weaken any governor.
Then came his personal errors, starting with last November’s infamous too-large and too-inside dinner with lobbyists at the hyper-expensive French Laundry restaurant in Northern California.
Months later, after humiliating apologias galore about that, Newsom saw his son photographed this summer maskless at a basketball camp while the state was imposing a masking rule at all day camps. More charges of hypocrisy.
There then followed Newsom’s arrogance in somehow convincing all other well-known Democrats not to run as potential recall replacement candidates. Newsom and his party figured that would make it him vs. a bunch of right-wing Republicans. But celebrity candidate Larry Elder turned up in the GOP field, while a relatively obscure blogger and registered Democrat named Kevin Paffrath suddenly made one strong poll showing.
Newsom’s response: He asked Democratic voters to simply vote no on the recall question and ignore the field of replacement candidates. Essentially, he told voters to give up one of their choices, an unprecedented request from a public official. Talk about vote suppression…
The bottom line: It’s not all his fault, but Newsom bears copious responsibility for his present predicament.
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Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.