California recall fueled by dinner, same-day decision

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SACRAMENTO, California. – In a single day last November, two events helped set the stage for the second recall election against a governor in California history: Gov. Gavin Newsom dined with 11 friends and lobbyists at one of the most expensive restaurants in the country as he begged Californians to stay home, while those seeking to oust him from office won an additional four months to qualify for the ballot.

Photos from the dinner without a mask showed the Democratic governor going against what he had been advocating for months to fight the coronavirus: don’t gather in a group, keep your distance, wear a mask. That this happened at the French Laundry – where the cheapest meal is $ 350 – fueled the idea that Newsom was offline. Dinner turned the heat up on the nascent encore, and the extra time allowed it to reach its full boil.

As of March, organizers had more than 1.5 million signatures they needed to force a vote on whether to remove the Democratic governor from the first term of the nation’s largest blue state.

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“We had a perfect storm with the judge’s ruling, with the French Laundry incident, with the wider COVID environment and the economic disaster,” said Mindy Romero, director of the University’s Center for Inclusive Democracy. from Southern California.

Voters will have the final say next Tuesday. A majority of voters are expected to vote “yes” to oust Newsom more than a year before the end of his term.

If they do, they would choose from a list of 46 replacement candidates – many of whom are unknown, but others with some recognition, including conservative talk show host Larry Elder and former San Diego mayor. Kevin Faulconer. Reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner is also in the running but has failed to gain traction.

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Because so many people are showing up, the winner would likely become the next governor of the most populous state in the country with 25% or less of the vote. It’s a far cry from the landslide that swept Newsom into power in 2018.

In California, a state where voting initiatives thrive, many governors have faced recall campaigns as part of a century-old reform that created a mechanism for voters to remove them mid-term. But just one other effort drew enough frustration to run the ballot: Voters recalled Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 due to an energy crisis and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the last California Republican to win in statewide.

A loss for Newsom, 53, would be a shocking turn in his relatively charmed political career and would almost certainly install a Republican governor in the country’s primary laboratory for progressive politics. A slight majority approve of the management of its work, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California which also shows that the recall has failed.

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The results will be chosen for clues about how voters feel heading into the 2022 midterm elections, when control of Congress and more than half of the governors are up for grabs.

“The outcome of this election is going to be fuel for 2022, period,” Romero said.

Amateur political organizer Orrin Heatlie launched the recall in February 2020, before the coronavirus became a real public health crisis in the United States. He was upset by Newsom’s support for immigrants to the country illegally and other liberal policies.

By the time he started collecting signatures, the coronavirus was dominating.

Newsom was the first governor to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, and when he dined at the French Laundry eight months later, the state had seen reopens and whip closures that have left small business owners, parents of school children and others overwhelmed. and confused.

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California was facing an increase in infections and hospitalizations, and the Newsom administration urged people not to reunite with more than three households. While Napa County, where the French laundry is located, allowed outdoor dining and limited indoor seating, the dinner brought together a dozen people from more than three households.

News of the November 6 dinner fell a week later, on a Friday where Newsom made no public appearances. In a statement, he said he and his wife “followed the restaurant’s health protocols and took safety precautions” but “should have acted better and not join the dinner.” When he appeared in public on Monday, Newsom said it was an “open-air restaurant” but admitted making a “bad mistake”.

The next day, a Los Angeles TV station obtained photos of cellphones questioning the dinner party being al fresco. The photos showed the table set back in a space with three walls and an open side with a sliding glass door. Newsom and the other guests were seated close to each other and were not wearing masks.

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Anne Dunsmore, campaign manager for pro-recall group Rescue California, said it reinforces the narrative that Newsom says one thing and does another. It also matched the image Newsom’s detractors have put forward – that he is an out of touch politician.

“The French laundry has been a tremendous boost to the effort,” said Dunsmore.

The recall campaign also called Newsom an elitist when his children returned to class in person at a private school when most public school students were blocked by virtual learning.

Ace Smith, Newsom’s longtime political consultant, disputes the importance of dinner in the recall march to the poll. He sees the presidential election, also in November, as an important marker, saying the loss of Donald Trump has created new anger for the recall campaign to seize. Six million people in California voted for Trump.

“They realized they had suppressed this intense anger among the Trump base, and the thing is, they only needed a fraction of the Trump base for this thing to qualify” for the ballot , said Smith.

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No explanation would have mattered if the organizers of the recall had not won four more months to present voters. A judge granted the extra time because the coronavirus blocked traditional in-person signature collection outside of stores or at farmers’ markets.

The Newsom team never appealed the judge’s ruling, a ruling widely viewed as a tactical error. Then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla said the recall organizers were showing no signs of a serious campaign.

The judge sided with the organizers of the recall in an interim decision, and neither side came forward to argue it in court on November 6, making it final.

The two main recall committees raised around $ 2 million in November and December, five times what the effort had raised previously, and ultimately collected 1.7 million valid signatures.

Newsom launched its “Stop the Republican Recall” campaign in March, weeks before signature collection ended, describing the effort as an effort led by extremists backing Trump. He made the state’s response to the pandemic and the economic fallout a central theme of his campaign.

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The highly contagious delta variant dulled his first message of “roaring return” from California and in the final weeks leading up to the election, he warned that voters’ choice was “a matter of life and death.”

Elder is the target of much of the Democrats’ attention. They warn the conservative talk radio host would cancel mask and vaccine warrants and reverse progress on a host of Liberal issues.

This is part of a calculation by the Newsom team to turn the recall of a referendum on the governor and his actions into a choice between Democratic and Republican values.

“If you sit down and let it become a referendum on whoever is in office, no matter how good or positive they are, you’re always at a disadvantage because you’re playing defense,” Smith said. “We need to be in a place, very simply, where we play offense.”

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See full AP coverage of the California recall elections: https://apnews.com/hub/california-recall

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