Newsom Recall, Part 1: Why NOT Have a Safety Net?

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This place is where — and oh yes it is! — Gov. Newsom’s current troubles really began: Chef and owner Thomas Keller’s restaurant “The French Laundry” in Yountville, now being unfairly (except for its hosting an illegal event) besmirched by its association with the Gov.

[Ed. Note: This is part 1 of a three-part (or so) series: here’s part 2 and part 3 will follow on Thursday. Beyond that, who knows?]

Prologue

Candidate filing in the special election to replace Gavin Newsom, should be be recalled, ends on Friday.  On Saturday we’ll find outwho is running the replace him.  It’s not mere clickbait when I say that “the answer may surprise you.”  If you don’t already know, it very likely will.

This piece addresses the completely awful way that the Governor and the Democratic Party establishment (at his behest) have been handling the impending recall election — and why their choices may lead to disaster.  Part 2, out tomorrow, will come to grips with the significant grain of truth that explains why the mostly spurious recall may succeed.  Part 3, out Thursday, will address what voters should do in this awful situation.

Because I do at least consider voting for the recall, this piece may well cost me some knee-jerk anti-recall friends within the Democratic Party.  I do regret that — but I think that my logic is sound.  That is what determines my decisions to publish.  But if you’re pissed off at me because my opposition to the recall is at this point somewhat conditional, you should really think about why that is.  Is it because it would be so horrible to lose the Governorship to a Republican?  If so, am I really the one who deserves your scorn?  If you think that it would be quite bad, you’re actually halfway on the path to agreeing with me.

I do want to warn my friends within the party to be very careful about expressing even private agreement with what I have to say here — the institutional party hates nothing more than a legitimate critique from someone who understands how the process works.  People attempting ingratiation may rat you out.  But those of you in clubs still (for now, though it is endangered) have freedom of thought and speech.  So do I — and I’m so glad to be able to use both here.

1. Two Different Reasons
to Oppose the Recall

As a Democrat, albeit one banished to where I don’t have to avoid telling hard truths, my first position regarding the recall is one that you’d probably expect:

(1) I don’t want to see the California Governorship taken over by Republicans — and especially by Trumpublicans.

But if I were still a Democrat involved in party leadership, I would be expected to provide a different reason for opposition:

(2) We can’t let the Republicans succeed in a partisan recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“A different reason,” you may think to yourself.  “Don’t you just mean to say ‘an additional reason,’ given that after all it is Newman’s name on the ballot?”

You might well think that they’re the same — but you’d be wrong!

I don’t see a necessary contradiction between them.  Despite some misgivings about the second reason — dealing with who is being recalled, not in how it’s being done — I could comfortably promote these two reasons in tandem.  The funny thing is: the Democratic Party, in thrall to its self-serving Governor, cannot.

The party wants people to offer only the second reason.  “This is a baseless partisan recall and Republicans can’t be allowed get away with it.  Period.”  The party seems to think that tarring it as “partisan” (and therefore suspect!) is a clear road to defeating it.

You see, the party fears that if you adhere to the first reason (“I don’t want a Trumpublican in the Governor’s office!) at all, then you might not be as serious about the second reason (“We must protect our leader!”)  This is because, as even schoolkids would understand, there are two different ways to avoid giving over the Governorship to Republicans.  Not recalling Newsom is the most obvious, but replacing him with another Democrat if he is recalled would satisfy the first goal just as well.

That is a thought that Democratic voters (especially party members) are simply not supposed to have.  The only way to prevent people from favoring a recall (reasons Newsom, and thus the party), is to force them into the starkest possible choice: “You have no choice!  It’ll be either Newsom as Governor or it’ll be a Republican.”

If you think I’m making this up … you’re wrong there too!

Imagine this scenario (may be hard to believe, but it’s true):  No obviously qualified, let alone compelling, Democrat is running in the “Part 2” race to replace Newsom if he is recalled.  The few Democrats running are weak and unknown jokes.

This is not happening by accident, nor is it due to lack of great possible candidates.  The “support Newsom or end up with a Republican” pressure drive is in full swing, supported by the threat of massive retaliation against anyone who violates this diktat.  (Threats of retaliation is the house specialty on the CDP’s menu.)  This approach comes straight from Newsom, because his sole interest is his self-interest.  He wants to crush the recall for reasons likely including that a convincing win helps to set up his potential 2024 Presidential campaign (likely against, in part, his longtime frenemy and rival Kamala Harris.)

In other words, due to the Governor’s selfishness, ambition, and vanity, we are being told that we must work without a net.  And the result really could be a Republican Governor in place by Thanksgiving — despite that a single prominent Democrat, running with Newsom’s blessing, could almost surely win.

In other words, if he goes down, we all go down.  Sweet, huh?

2. Why Working without a Net
is a Really Bad Idea

A. It’s Understandable — but Still Really Bad

I don’t want to pretend that a recall target wanting to prevent attractive candidates from running to replace them is unusual. No politician wants to see members of their party running to replace them in a recall, because that raises the possibility that people will vote to get rid of him in order to get their preferred replacement into office.

At times that’s understandable.  When Josh Newman was being recalled from the State Senate, he didn’t want any Democrat running to replace him.  But he had good reason for that, because that was a completely different sort of situation:

  1. No one else but him (except maybe Jay Chen, who wasn’t running) could likely beat his Republican opponent.
  2. The party was deeply divided. Many prominent figures within the local Democratic Party hated Newman, who had taken the nomination for the seat away from the duly endorsed Sukhee Kang, who had carpetbagged from Irvine to Fullerton to run.  They had not forgiven him. so he had reason to fear losing.  (They also seemed to dislike his being too unserious — given his being clever and funny and such.)
  3. Most importantly: the stakes were far, far, far lower!

None of those are the case here.

B. It Deeply Undercuts the Stakes

Expanding on that last point: losing Newman in the State Senate meant losing a supermajority and losing some deciding votes on good policies (whether you believe that gas tax was one or not.  Let’s not debate that again here.) That’s bad — but it is nothing compared to giving a Republican Governor the ability to appoint judges and Cabinet officials, and to mess with the budget process.  The reasons that Newman could legitimately want to shoo away challengers do not apply in Newsom’s case.

Keeping the Governorship in a recall was so important that when former Gov. Gray Davis was recalled back in late 2003, he had his (unfortunately poorly known, estranged, and underwhelming Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante run in the race to replace him.  (I doubt that anyone thinks that that’s why Davis lost.)  But Gray Davis was not especially arrogant, selfish, and vain — and Gavin Newsom is all of those things.  He doesn’t want to diminish the likelihood of his surviving the recall by even one iota.

Newsom’s reasoning for reducing the decision to “it’s either me or a Republican” is internally inconsistent and disingenuous.  If he thinks that he’s a shoo-in to be re-elected, then he shouldn’t mind if one (even two!) prominent Democrats run against him.  But if he thinks that he’s not a shoo-in, then how dare he gamble with the future of the state like this?  (I mentioned “arrogant, selfish and vain” — but I clearly left out some intensifying modifiers before each.)  But even worse, his actions invite voters to think: “if Newsom doesn’t really care, aside from self-interest, whether or not the state is governed by a Democrat, then why should I?

C. Trying to Extort Voters Doesn’t Even Work!

Worst of all: “working without a net” doesn’t even work as extortion!  The notion of extorting voters with “it’s either me or a Republican” is so twisted — and so electorally stupid — that it could only come from the geniuses behind the California Democratic Party.  (The CDP’s leaders don’t actually have to go along with Newsom’s crazy if they don’t want to, after all — but are too chicken to avoid this game of chicken.)

Here, I’ll spell it out: the “working without a net” approach is based on two highly dubious assumptions:

(1) that voters don’t mind being extorted like this, or even won’t realize that they are being extorted, and

(2) that once you’ve established the game board to your liking in this way, voter turnout will take care of itself.

Both of these assumptions — which are necessary to justify not putting up a decent Democrat in Part 2 of the recall — are completely and repulsively wrong.

First: people will know that they’re being messed with when they look at Part 2 of the ballot and see that there is nobody worth voting for.  And they won’t like it.  It’s too brazen and cutthroat and at the same time too cowardly.  (I’m not the only one who will be writing about this!)

Second: people who see serious flaws in Newsom’s behavior as Governor, but would be inclined to keep him if they had to vote, are unlikely to rouse themselves to voteespecially in a special election, and especially given the media slaughtering of Newsom over his “big mistake” (hint: French Laundry Covid Hypocrisy)  that will likely pervade both paid and social media.

3. A Brief Digression on
Turnout and Its Implications

A recall election is largely a matter of turnout.  That’s why Republicans like them: a smaller, disproportionately fanatical and obedient electorate will tend to skew to the right.  That’s unfortunate, but fair: it’s part of the process.  Democrats just have to find ways to deal with it. (Pass the John Lewis Act, Manchin!)

Democrats particularly need that turnout to win the “whether to recall” question.  But they don’t seem to understand that the “who’s the replacement if the recall succeeds” question is a way to obtain it!  Here’s how Democrats, if they were thinking clearly instead of serving voters gruel and lashing them if they decline to swallow it, could really ensure a Newsom victory.

Let’s consider an example that clarifies how this might work:  Given the huge gob of Republican candidates competing for votes, the ideal situation for Democrats in the recall would be to have two — and only two! — very old (i.e., not likely to run in 2022) and ideologically opposite Democratic candidates on the ballot. We already have a perfect mismatched pair in Congress, either of whom might want to cap off their career with a brief stint as California’s first female Governor.

  • In the extremely moderate corner, we have Newsom patron and Joe Manchin of the Obama Administration, Sen. Dianne Feinstein!
  • In the far left corner, we have Black, proud, and radical firebrand Rep. Maxine Waters!

The party should put them up against each other in the “Part 2” ballot question. This would turn this special election into essentially a straw poll between these two disparate icons.

You want Democrats to come out to vote?  Have them come out to decide whether they would prefer Feinstein or Waters as their “13-months-only” replacement Governor, in case Newsom loses!  They will come out for that! And while they are there — knowing that their faction might still lose (or that a Republican might win) — they will vote against the recall.  (Team Maxine would hate the idea of a Feinstein Administration; Team Dianne would faint at the notion of Waters in charge.)

That’s how to drive election turnout!  (And of course, both candidates would appear together (at least virtually) saying that voters should vote against the recall.  Each likes her current gig!)

Instead, the Democratic Party — which considers voters actual desires to be an irrelevant inconvenience — wants (unearned) fealty from its voters:

“Do what we tell you because that’s what we told you!”

Let any mid-teen tell you how well that works!  And speaking of mid-teens, that was the exact voter turnout level in parts of LA County’s special and local elections under CDP/LA County Chair Eric Bauman (until the legislature finally forced their consolidation with main elections.)  In a recall, it would be fatal.

A party should want voters to come out to the polls for whatever reason gets them there — especially in a special election.  If it’s because they love the Governor, great!  If it’s anger at recall proponents trying to get a low-turnout election to turn out a higher turnout one – great!  If it’s not wanting the other party to run the show, that’s great too!  You don’t take their preferred motivation away from them — especially if (like most) they don’t actually love the Governor!

Now let’s get back to those “two possible reasons” to oppose the recall.

4. In Which I Examine My Own Motivations to Vote

I don’t pretend to be an typical voter by any means, but I’ve found over the past several years that, despite my being very much an ideological Democrat in principle, I do have a lot in common with swing voters: third party voters, frustrated voters, independent voters, cynical voters, unlikely-to-show-up-and-vote nominally Democratic voters — generally alienated voters.  Often we can give them an additional name: voters who decide elections.

I talk to them a lot; we share not being fans of either major party in practice.  The main difference between me and them that they believe on faith that the Democratic Party is totally screwed up and I know from experience that it is — and how it stays that way.

My point here (and yes, some of the above is hyperbolic) is that the way I think about politics is pretty similar to how alienated voters feel about it.  So I think knowing my views are useful.

A. Yes, I’d Oppose* a Recall to Keep Some Rando Republican from Becoming Governor

[*”oppose” under conditions that, remarkably, may not apply here.]

This is my main motivator to defeat the recall — and I’d venture to say that, of the two reasons outlined above, it is far and away the most persuasive to the overall electorate.  For Democrats and sympathizers, it’s a very good reason.  I remember the years of Pete Wilson, of  George Deukmejian , and of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and they all sucked — more so than the younger folks among us can even imagine.  (Yes, our Republican readers will differ with that.  You be you — but I hope we can limit it to just one comment thread.)  We don’t want to be ruled by the megachurches, bigots, knaves, and Chambers of Commerce.

But the present situation is even worse.  Now we also risk being governed by seditionists, segregationists, and science-deniers.  Some of the Republican candidates now running, most likely Ose and Kiley, seem to be Trumpians — which does not make them personally worse than the above trio, but does make them more dangerous.  (I hope that none of our readers will differ with that.)

But, again: Keeping a Republican out of the Governor’s Chair is NOT the pitch that the institutional Democratic Party is making to voters!  Instead, their slogan is generic: “Stop the Republican Recall!”  Not “We can’t afford a Republican Governor!” — but “Protect Gavin Newsom!”

(Again again: in conjunction with the first argument, “Stop the Republican Recall” is fine (at least if their motivation truly is just a power grab, which I’m not sure is so.)  Divorced from the first argument — as is so when no Democrat runs to replace Newsom as a safety net — it becomes all about protecting Newsom.)

5. Under Some Conditions, I Would Oppose a Recall Just to Protect Gavin Newsom Personally

Personally, I don’t find the second reason to oppose the recall compelling.  It’s not that I’m craving to recall Newsom, but that I care fifty times as much about not putting a Republican in office as I do about protecting him – and I care nothing about his possible 2024 Presidential campaign.

As I’ve noted, the party is doing the absolute opposite of what I suggest above to drive turnout.  People in high party leadership really believe that their job is to decide on the candidate and strategy and tactics, and it’s the role of the Democratic electorate to do what they are told.  (This is they go along with Newsom’s plan to work without a net: out of weakness, not strength.)

(As an aside: This putting one’s leader above the interests of the party’s supporters is similar to the Republican elevation of Trump over everything else, with one big difference: Trump really does, sad to say, have massive support among the Republican grass roots.  Newsom, by contrast, has tremendous sway over the party leadership — members of which can be successfully bribed and threatened — and minimal sway over the electorate.  That’s why he’s potentially in trouble.  That’s why he made his half-hearted apology over his “bad mistake” of attending the French Laundry event, while really not seeming to grasp the true and consequential horror of his action.)

One of the conditions under which I’d vote to retain Newsom to protect him personally is if he and the party acted to protect the voters from the consequences of a loss, rather than just trying to extort them.  They’ve already blown that one, but I can’t rule out the possibility that I could overlook it.

The other condition is that to the extent that I believe that the Republicans are just trying to use low turnout to arrange a power grab, I’d feel the urge to oppose the recall on that basis.  To the extent that they oppose Newsom for bad reasons, like blaming him for the high cost of housing and the departure of business as a result of it, or because he took strong stands on protecting Californians from Covid through masking, social distancing, and vaccination, I’d also be inclined to oppose the recall.  But while Democrats insist that these are the only motivations Republicans have. there’s one possible motivation that would actually be quite legitimate – and that, deftly handled by the vaunted Republican public relations machine, really could lead him to lose.

6. What Possible Fair Rationale Exists?

The only rationale for the recall I’d consider viable for a progressive stems from, of course, Newsom’s trip to the event honoring the birthday of Peter Kinney, an important commercial lobbyist, at the French Laundry restaurant – just weeks after he issued a statewide ban over such events.  The obvious charge is one of hypocrisy; the less hidden one is that his hypocrisy did in fact have horrific consequences.

If Newsom loses, it will to some degree because he loses the votes of the many Republicans who are demented anti-maskers, anti-distancers, and anti-vaxxers – but those votes are not that large a part of the population, and they were never his to begin with.

It will be in part because the Democratic Party couldn’t turn out its vote in a special election — as usual — and was out of tune with the actual motivations of its potential voters.

But let’s put that aside for a moment.  Substantively, he’d lose because, at perhaps the most critical point in the battle against Covid, he showed himself to be the worst kind of privileged elitist hypocrite – willing to sell out his declared principles to show up and boost the clout of a perfidious lobbying — and he gutted the public health message he’d worked hard and well to support and just about the worst possible moment.

(Yes, I do have receipts.  They’re in Part 2., appearing tomorrow.)

That grievous error is all on him!  And yes, he made his halfhearted and unconvincing apology over the his attending the French Laundry event — while really not seeming, or at least willing,  to grasp the horror of his action.

It’s not absurd for a voter to consider that a firing offense.  I think that that’s a big part of what’s motivating the voters who will make the difference in the recall vote: the ones who that aren’t that partisan, who are not that against his policies and overall track record, but who hate that he did something so craven, arrogant, stupid, and deadly — and then quickly declared “lesson learned!” and forgave himself over it

I’m not committed to voting to recall him, but that sure as hell makes me want to.  And I am very much not alone in that.  Some of you may be thinking “but oh, what he did is not that bad!”  Check in tomorrow — and you too will be sorry that we’re  stupidly crossing this tightrope without a safety net.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)