Republicans try, but fail, to create chaos with California recall effort

Republicans are focusing their efforts on a California recall election at exactly the wrong time

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 12, 2021 9:30AM (EDT)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference at The Unity Council on May 10, 2021 in Oakland, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference at The Unity Council on May 10, 2021 in Oakland, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

On the eve of the Trump Party purge of heretic Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican gave a stirring speech on the House floor in which she proclaimed her unyielding fealty to the Constitution and the rule of law and declared:

Today, we face a threat America has never seen before. A former president who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence.

That's putting it as starkly as I've ever seen it and she isn't wrong.

It's also important to remember that it isn't just Cheney who faces stigmatization. Republicans all over the country are purging their members who dare to speak out against Donald Trump. They are using every lever at their disposal to usurp the democratic process in order to pave the way for a Trump restoration.

This is mostly happening in red and purple states where they either dominate or at least share political power and they're ruthlessly using it to manipulate the vote and the voting systems to tilt in their favor. But it should be noted that they are also trying to create chaos in blue states wherever they can as well. The shenanigans the Trump administration pulled with COVID supplies and testing in order to help Trump's re-election effort are one example, but the most notable attempt post-election has come from GOP operatives trying to recall California's Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom.

Everyone remembers that back in 2003, the Republicans succeeded in recalling Governor Gray Davis ostensibly over a hike in car registration fees (which were mandated by law.) Davis was remarkably unpopular, with a 24% approval rating just before the recall was approved. And everyone knew that a mega-movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was very likely to enter the race which made the whole thing into an entertainment spectacle that a guy whose name was Gray (and had a personality to match) just wasn't going to be able to survive.

Republican gadflies have been circulating petitions to recall Newsom practically since the moment he was inaugurated and they did the same with Jerry Brown, his predecessor who was also a Democrat. Considering the sad, moribund state of the California GOP, creating chaos is about all they are capable of. This time, with the state reeling from the pandemic, they were able to get enough signatures to qualify for the recall which may take place next fall, just one year from the regular election, which makes it even more absurd.

The petition first got traction when it was reported that Newsom had gone to dinner with health care lobbyists at a very fancy restaurant during COVID. There was some question as to whether his attendance actually circumvented the lockdown rules that were in place at the time but Newsom did apologize for failing to model good public health behavior and acknowledged that it was a mistake, which it was. The petitioners further accused him of exempting a wine property he owns with his family from the rules last summer but on closer examination, it's clear that the rules in place at the time were according to the public health guidelines and his property was one among many in the Napa Valley that was not fully closed until the big winter spike that shut down everything in the state.

As you can see, these are Republican claims of liberal "hypocrisy" which, considering their worship of Donald Trump who was holding super-spreader rallies throughout the COVID pandemic, is fatuous nonsense but they form the basis of the recall complaints. Californians are like everyone else in the country, sick of COVID restrictions and desperate to get back to normal so it figures that more than a few people probably signed the petitions just to register their frustration.

At one point Newsom's approval rating had dipped below 50% (a long way from the 24% Gray Davis had at the same point in the process) but it's ticked up to 54% in the latest polls as the vaccination process has been successful and the state is looking to completely open up next month. That poll also showed that the Big Name Star the Republicans are offering up this time, Caitlyn Jenner, isn't drawing any support despite hiring such GOP luminaries as former Trump campaign chairman Brad Parscale.

That is not to say that Newsom doesn't have a full plate and plenty of challenges that the voters are anxious to see confronted as the crisis wanes. Much like other states, California is facing a desperate homeless crisis in the cities, a sharp rise in crime during the pandemic year, and perhaps most importantly, a terrible housing crisis that is threatening the well-being of the state.

On the other hand, Newsom has some very effective tools in his toolbox to try to go about dealing with all that.

California has a great big 75.7 billion dollar surplus. You see, unlike most states, California taxes capital gains the same as money made from wages and salaries. Surprisingly, the state's super-wealthy people have decided to stay in the state despite being forced to share a portion of their vast wealth. Imagine that. After all, it's not as if they can't spare it. So Newsom announced this week that he plans to rebate 8 billion dollars to lower and middle-income Californians in the form of $600 checks which will no doubt be very welcome to the vast majority who didn't do quite as well as the super-rich during the pandemic. (One of the most amusing ironies about that is this rebate is actually required by law as part of the Republican tax revolt of the 1970s that nearly bankrupted the state in earlier days.) He will also pay 100 percent of the back rent owed by some low-income renters and will spend $2 billion to help people pay overdue utility bills. He's committed more billions on expanded child care subsidies and drought and wildfire mitigation and he's asking the legislature to approve $12 billion over and above what has been budgeted for homelessness over the next two years. And that's just for starters.

Perhaps the Republicans will be able to find enough angry voters in the state to oppose taxing the super-rich and complain about all that help for ordinary working families and people in need but I doubt it. California is the beating heart of blue America and this time the Terminator isn't going to be on the ballot, the state isn't in a perpetual state of crisis over funding and the California Republican Party is a joke. If Newsom survives they'll shriek that the vote was rigged but that's really all they've got. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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