Could one fancy dinner end up costing Gavin Newsom his job? Yes, it could. On the day of the governor’s infamous mask-free lunch at French Laundry on Nov. 6, 2020—in the middle of the pandemic, with restaurants forced to close and public masking orders in place—the recall campaign had gathered roughly 55,000 signatures. One month later, the total was close to half-a-million.
Should Gov. Gavin Newsom be recalled? No.
As it would be for any governor, Newsom’s record at the two-and-a-half year mark has been a mix of successes and failures. While we want him to do more to address the dearth of affordable housing in the state, and wish he’d spend money on year-round wildfire prevention rather than grossly overstate his actions, Newsom has made good on many environmental, educational and criminal-justice promises. And his COVID-19 pandemic response, which has the Republican party and many anti-vax/anti-mask opponents in an uproar (but actually wasn’t even a major concern for the original recall sponsors), has in truth been frequently nimble, aggressive and more successful than most others despite navigating a public-health emergency in the most populous state. (For expanded analysis see “Should Newsom be recalled.”)
If Newsom is recalled, however, what California will likely get is some form of celebrity candidate—like right-wing radio talk-show host Larry Elder (who leads in most polls) or Kevin Paffrath, who hosts a popular YouTube finance and real estate channel (second in most polls, first in at least one).
Elder is anti-immigrant, opposes expansion of Medi-Cal, calls environmentalists “environmental extremists,” would roll back COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates, and would want to get “somebody who has the same philosophy as the former Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos” to run the state Board of Education.
Paffrath is probably the only Democratic candidate with a chance should Newsom be recalled. Question is, if you say “no” to the recall, should you vote for him—or do as the Governor and the state Democratic Party advise and leave the second question on the ballot blank? Paffrath, a centrist, might have some good ideas, but he is only 29 and has no experience in the political arena. Still, Elder would be scary for California, so hedging your bet on Paffrath or another (less-likely candidate) just might keep California from waking up to a nightmare.