On Tuesday, Sept. 14, California voters will determine whether to recall the current governor of California, Democrat Gavin Newsom, and if so, whom to replace him with. Like many other Californians, I have been following this election with fascination, apprehension,and even dread. Quite frankly, the recall process is a circus and nearly all the candidates are clowns. But while it is tempting to write off the election altogether, there remains the very real possibility that Newsom can and will be recalled, and it’s among these candidates that we must choose his successor.
Immediately, the biggest problem with the recall is the fact that there isn’t a clear message as to why there needs to be a recall in the first place. While there are many reasons to not like Gavin Newsom, his net approval ratings remain positive, and unlike other state governors, such as Andrew Cuomo, he’s not embroiled in a major scandal. And yet, if you ask five different voters, you will get five different answers. From homelessness, to taxes, to the high cost of living, to gas prices, to the toll of the pandemic, all of this is supposedly Newsom’s fault. And while clearly these are serious issues deserving significant debate, I’ve yet to hear a coherent statement as to why, specifically, this is solely Newsom’s fault, and which candidate, specifically, is best to replace him.
Nevertheless, voters are in a dead heat over the recall, with RealClearPolitics averaging 48.0% of likely voters supporting recall, with 47.5% opposed. Due to the Democratic Party’s boycott of the recall election’s replacement component, and the Republican Party’s refusal to endorse any one candidate, this election will remain a free-for-all across the 46 candidates who will appear on the ballot. As California does not allow any run-off elections, nor do they allow for any ranked choice mechanism to allow votes to transfer and coalesce around a candidate, this means that the first candidate to gain even a slim plurality of just a fraction of the electorate will be elected governor.
Currently, the two likeliest candidates are both total political newcomers with mere handfuls of supporters. Based on RealClearPolitics’ polling average, Larry Elder, the leading Republican candidate, enjoys just 21.8% support among likely voters, followed by Kevin Paffrath, a 29-year-old Democrat and influencer, with just 11.0% of the vote. However, due to the paucity of good polling and the large number of undecided voters, there are wild swings in polling results. To give an example of the absolute incoherence of the polls, the same KABC/SurveyUSA poll that conservatives have cited to show Newsom being recalled by 11 points also showed Democrat Kevin Paffrath, not Republican Larry Elder, winning with 27% of the vote. At this point, we haven’t even the slightest idea as to which candidate is likely to win the governorship of the world’s fifth largest economy, and even if they do, we don’t have any idea of how they plan on governing.
Beyond these two, there remains only a handful of decent Republicans who in my opinion possess the basic competency to steer the ship of the state through these turbulent waters. These are John Cox, the previous Republican candidate for governor, polling at a humiliating 7.5%, while Kevin Faulconer, the former mayor of San Diego, polls at just 5.5%, and California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, who rounds off the pack at 4.0%.
Outside of these three, the rest of the candidates are just a cavalcade of clowns, with celebrities, actors, Instagram influencers, porn stars, college students and others joining in this mess.
In a previous column, I made the point that elections in California in general need to be reformed, and that ranked choice would be a significant improvement. However, this appears to be especially true of the recall election.
To be frank, none of these candidates — even the experienced ones — have articulated anything close to a coherent vision for what they would like to change in Sacramento, and instead seem far more interested in burnishing their own brand images than proposing any meaningful policies. Furthermore, this shows that not only have the two main parties completely bungled the recall into what can only be described as a $276 million waste of taxpayer money, but they failed to adequately address any of the issues that the recall was ostensibly over. Furthermore, they’ve also demonstrated what a farce the California recall system is, and how desperately it needs reform.
Kevin de Bree