Opinion: Newsom gets an easy path
There will be hot races up and down the California ballot in the June 7 primary election and later in the November runoffs. But not in the highest-profile races for the two most powerful jobs on the line this year.
Right now, mere weeks before the March 11 filing deadline, it appears Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will have nothing to fear either in the spring or fall. The same with U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat appointed by Newsom after former Sen. Kamala Harris became vice president.
Yes, there will still be competition here and there. Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara faces a serious challenge from fellow Democrat Marc Levine, a Marin County assemblyman, and very likely another from former Commissioner Steve Poizner, beaten by Lara in 2018.
Appointed Attorney General Rob Bonta, named to his current job after Xavier Becerra left to become President Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services, will have at least one major rival, Sacramento County’s longtime District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, running with no party preference.
The openly gay Schubert is best known for using genetics to crack the Golden State Killer case, seeing Joseph DeAngelo plead guilty in 2020 after being charged with 13 murders and 13 rape-related offenses.
So there are no guarantees of election or reelection to top statewide office this time, unless your name is Newsom or Padilla. Newsom right now has no significant declared opponent, while Padilla’s lone experienced challenger is Jerome Horton, a former member of the state Board of Equalization and a fellow Democrat.
Newsom lack of significant challengers is the more unusual. Far-right talk show host Larry Elder, who led would-be replacement governor candidates with 48.4 percent of the vote in the September attempt to oust Newsom, has begged off another race even though he said months ago he likely would run. But Newsom never had reason to fear Elder, whose vote total last fall was far less than half the number opting to retain Newsom.
Other declared candidates include San Diego County businessman John Cox, twice beaten by Newsom and the sixth-place finisher among wanna-be recall replacements. The mostly self-funded Cox was best known for using a Kodiak bear as a campaign prop last summer.
Also on the Republican side is ex-San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who drew one-seventh as many votes as Elder.
Other possibilities include Democrat John Chiang, a former state treasurer who dropped out of the 2018 race early, and Republican Kevin Kiley, an assemblyman from the Sacramento suburbs who pulled a measly 3.5 percent of the recall replacement vote.
None of them spurs any fear in Newsom. That might explain some of his behavior over the latter part of 2021. First came a last-moment pullout from a world climate change meeting in Scotland, saying his family didn’t want him to leave at Halloween. Trick or treating with the kids took precedence over an issue Newsom calls existential.
Then he took his family to Mexico for six days over Thanksgiving week, while flash mobs conducted numerous smash-and-grab burglaries at high-end stores around the state. Few other governors would have passed up the chance to grandstand as a sympathetic law enforcement figure at a time like that, but Newsom again preferred being with his wife and kids.
Later, he was a no-show when other state officials using his authority reinstated California’s indoor masking mandate just before Christmas. That contrasted sharply with his behavior through the coronavirus pandemic’s first 18 months, when he overexposed himself on television or the Internet almost daily with COVID pronouncements others could have made.
If all this means Newsom is coasting, taking his reelection for granted, it would be understandable considering that he survived months of concerted attacks during the recall campaign.
For sure, there would be much more tension about this year’s campaign if the recall vote had been closer or never taken place at all.
This also leaves Newsom very few places to look if he wants political advancement. About the only office that might interest him is the presidency, now occupied by a fellow Democrat.
But it’s doubtful Newsom would run against Harris in 2024 even if President Biden were to step aside and she then sought to keep the job. Which goes far toward explaining Newsom’s relaxed demeanor.
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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.