In the past few weeks alone, he has sparked surprise and hindsight for abruptly lifting stay-at-home orders; he overhauled the state’s immunization system while California lags behind smaller states in getting vaccinated; its effort to reopen schools collapsed; and state audits have uncovered missteps that have contributed to at least $ 10 billion in unemployment fraud.
All of this provided fresh fodder for a circulating recall petition – started by Republicans ahead of the pandemic – and on Monday former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, launched a bid against Newsom. Some Democrats are now starting to whisper about the need for a back-up plan if voters decide the first-term governor must leave.
Newsom’s slide from the early days of the pandemic underscores the pain facing leaders, especially Democrats who have avoided early political backlash, as virus fatigue sets in, vaccines remain elusive and voters stop blaming the Trump administration for their problems.
A poll released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute of California found that just over half of Californians – 54% – approve of Newsom’s way of handling work, suggesting the recall effort is still skyrocketing. But that’s down from 65% in May, at the height of its approval. Among Democrats, it has gone from 86% support in May to 71% now. About half of independents support it and only 16% of Republicans approve. The poll did not ask about the recall.
Bill Burton, a Democratic communications strategist and former spokesperson for President Barack Obama who lives in Southern California, said Democrats nationwide have been hammering out a “follow the science” message as many Americans are more immediately worried about putting their children back to school and reopening their businesses. .
“There is a certain disconnect between public policies and what ordinary people experience in their lives,” he said.
For Newsom, the trouble began in November when he was caught having dinner at the chic French Laundry restaurant for a lobbyist’s birthday as he told Californians to avoid gatherings, reinforcing the impression that ‘he was out of touch with people.
The disorderly rollout of the vaccine in California and a new round of business closures just before Christmas have drawn further criticism. In the New Year, Newsom has come under fire for initially refusing to disclose the data it used to determine which areas of the state should be locked down, then abruptly reversed course last week and lifted the stay-at-home orders statewide.
The editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, two of the state’s leading newspapers, have sharply criticized his decision and questioned his motives.
The decision “raised questions about whether the governor was ‘really following the science’ as he so often says, or was swayed by growing public discontent about the pandemic restrictions,” the Los Editorial Board wrote. Angeles Times.
Even some of Newsom’s traditional allies criticized him.
Los Angeles-area Democrat MK Laura Friedman was among those who took to Twitter to express surprise and frustration at Newsom’s sudden turnaround. She and others said they had not received any warning from the administration, making it impossible to explain the new rules to community members and confused business leaders.
“If we don’t know ahead of time, we can’t help you with this message,” Friedman said. “And then we all look dysfunctional.”
Still, she said she supported Newsom and didn’t want to see him recalled.
Among voters, there is evidence of frustration. Organizers of the recall say they collected 1.3 million of the 1.5 million signatures needed by mid-March to put the reminder on the ballot. State officials had verified 410,000 at the beginning of January.
Meanwhile, law enforcement is investigating threats of death and violence against the governor, his family and his businesses, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Mike Trujillo, a Los Angeles strategist who worked for one of Newsom’s Democratic opponents in the 2018 governor’s race, said Newsom couldn’t afford to take puns from the Democrats with a potential recall looming. The governor’s decision to overturn stay-at-home orders could alienate members of his own party who have taken the pandemic very seriously, Trujillo said.
“If you are the Gavin team, your political operation has to be ‘make every Democrat happy’, and that has not been his style of operation from day one as governor,” Trujillo said.
He added: “If lawmakers are ready to speak up, imagine what the grassroots are feeling.”
Sonja Diaz, founder of the Latino Politics & Policy Initiative at UCLA, said young workers and people of color are bearing the brunt of the state’s coronavirus outbreaks. She said the Trump administration deserves much of the blame for the rambling response, but Democrats need to stay focused on the priorities of vaccinating people and providing economic aid rather than bowing to right-wing criticism.
“It’s not really fair on a governor,” she said.
Newsom last week called the idea that it is making decisions based on politics “nonsense,” but otherwise avoided commenting on the recall. Beyond Faulconer, several other Republicans and a tech billionaire are considering offers if the recall occurs, though none are particularly well-known to voters. Most of California’s Republican mega-donors sit on the sidelines.
For now, many Democrats doubt the recall will go round the ballot. Yet they look back to 2003, when voters recalled Governor Gray Davis, to learn lessons as they debate whether it is worth supporting Newsom or finding an alternative. In that election, the Democratic lieutenant governor ran, a move that some Democrats say helped Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger win. But others say the party cannot take the risk of not having a credible alternative.
Dan Newman, Newsom’s political strategist, said he was not worried that the party would backfire on Newsom and that dealing with voter anger was part of the job.
“People are frustrated and upset, understandably. The pandemic has caused suffering and disruption and it is difficult to be a public servant,” Newman said. “It’s part of what you sign up for – fires, pandemics and vaccine development are not all under your control, but you are held accountable and it is part of the deal, right or wrong.”
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