Monday, August 16, 2021

Election endorsement: Should we recall California governor Gavin Newsom?

Photo courtesy Michael S. Williamson, Washington Post
Election endorsements are a tradition at The Gray Report, because I think we yell too much about national politics but don't discuss our local choices enough.

This could be the easiest election endorsement ever. Unlike a regular ballot with school board candidates I've never heard of and complex ballot propositions, there are only two questions on the ballot that all Californians received by mail, and the first is the key: should we recall Governor Gavin Newsom? And the answer to that question is the easiest ever.

Just because it's easy doesn't mean it's without consequence. We are in the middle of a pandemic, and we might suddenly hand the governor's job -- and power -- to a radio talk show host, a YouTube commentator, or a businessman with a pet bear. That might sound like a joke but those are the three leading candidates.

I am furious at the California Democratic Party for allowing this to happen. Not for the first time. There are many echoes in this recall election of 2003, when Gray Davis was recalled and voters installed Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor. Unfortunately there is no one anywhere near as good as Schwarzenegger waiting to take over this time. That is the California Democratic Party's (CDP) fault.

In 2002, Davis was extremely unpopular but the CDP discouraged any primary competition. Voters didn't want Davis but the CDP tried to avoid giving us a choice. The very next year there was a recall, and the CDP tried to keep every viable Democratic candidate from entering. Cruz Bustamante, the lieutenant governor, threw his hat in the ring despite being warned that he would be ostracized by the CDP. The CDP didn't put any effort into Bustamante's candidacy. Davis was recalled, Schwarzenegger became governor, and as threatened Bustamante's political career was over. Thanks to the CDP cramming Gray Davis down our throats and not supporting an alternative, we got 7 years of a GOP governor in a Democratic state.

That is looking increasingly likely to happen again. If only we had a Cruz Bustamante on this ballot. San Francisco mayor London Breed or Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti would look good on this ballot. Former LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, California House speaker Anthony Rendon and California Senate majority leader Robert Hertzberg also. Anybody in Newsom's cabinet would look good on this ballot, and for most it would be their only real chance to be governor. But the party managed to keep them from running.

The strategy is to coerce voters into voting NO on the recall because, the CDP calculates, we should rightfully be terrified by the sideshow clowns who will get the job if the recall succeeds. But polls are showing how risky that strategy is, as Newsom barely leads at this time.

It's not just a Republican-led recall: it's a Proud Boys, anti-vax, anti-masker, seditionist-led recall. The same people who cheered on Jan. 6 are the ones most excited about this recall. They are going to vote. They might have enough numbers to get it done if sensible members of the electorate don't vote. Think about the face of those Jan. 6 terrorists in the Capitol: that is the enthusiasm they are bringing to this recall.

Of course you should vote NO.

I'm not going to defend Newsom at length. If you hate Newsom, he's up for re-election in 2022 and if the CDP doesn't block other candidates from the primary like in 2002, we can vote him out then. The 2022 primary is less than a year away! Wait for it!

That said, the state has a budget surplus under Newsom. Under his pandemic leadership we went from having one of the worst outbreaks in the entire world in Los Angeles in mid-2020 to having one of the lowest rates of infection in the country today. I don't like wearing a mask again either, but do you want to live in Florida right now? I like Florida, I lived there for a decade, but no thank you during the Delta variant surge. Newsom has gotten a number of things wrong, but he has gotten the two biggest things right.

But honestly, that's not the reason to vote NO. The reason is that like every election, if you choose not to decide you still have made a choice. Somebody is going to be Governor of California in October. Ignoring this recall doesn't mean it won't happen; instead it makes it more likely.

I'm going to vote NO. Obviously. And I am ABSOLUTELY NOT going to leave the second question blank. I am NOT going to let Proud Boys and anti-vaxxers decide the next governor of California without doing a thing to stop it.

I have to hold my nose and vote for someone in case Newsom falls. There are 46 candidates on the ballot and one of them will be governor.

Survey USA recently released a poll showing the top three candidates as Kevin Paffrath (27%), a YouTube talking head who has the huge advantage of being one of only nine Democrats; Larry Elder (23%), a conservative talk show host; and John Cox (10%), a businessman who brought a bear on a chain to his campaign speeches for some reason, perhaps going for the underserved carnival demographic.

All of them suck; I mean, really, really suck. Including the "Democrat." I always complain about having to choose lousy school board candidates, but these are even worse choices, and the job is so much more important.

Here's a quick summary. The link on each of their names goes to their Wikipedia pages, which I encourage you to read:

Kevin Paffrath: He buys and sells homes but makes his money from selling advertising on his YouTube channel. He advocates for landlords to mislead tenants. He's 29 years old and popular with younger voters, largely because he's not a professional politician. His positions on his website are interesting, but they're not well thought out (he thinks he can reduce gas prices by raising the tax on gas) and more importantly they're not things he can accomplish without the legislature; an experienced politician would understand that. And if the CDP wouldn't support any of its members to run, don't expect the Democrats in the legislature to support Paffrath if he wins.

Everybody hates politicians. Do you remember the last non-politician we elected President? If you think Donald Trump was good at the job ... It took Schwarzenegger two years to figure out how to work in government, and there are less than two years left in the current governor's term. Jesse Ventura was a non-politician governor in Minnesota; the state went from a budget surplus to a deficit in his one term. Both Schwarzenegger and Ventura were a lot smarter, more experienced, and better prepared than Paffrath and you can't call either one a success. We're in a crisis; we don't need a leader who needs to have the limits of his power explained every day.

Larry Elder: Please. Elder is 69 and he's a lawyer, which will help him understand that he can't just violate the law. But he has been a conservative talk-show host for 33 years. He hasn't run anything. He doesn't manage people. Governor is a management job as much as it is a political job, and he has zero experience. He is not qualified to be a big-city mayor, much less a governor. (Obviously, neither is Paffrath.)

John Cox: I don't love saying this, but Cox is easily the most qualified of the three leading candidates. He was the Republican candidate for governor in 2018; he has run for office several times before, so at least he should know the rules. I don't like his political positions, but he's less extreme than Elder and more sensible than Paffrath.

Now there is a quandary: should I (and you) vote for Cox, the least bad of the top three candidates, or fish around among the other 43 for somebody better?

Kevin Faulconer, former mayor of San Diego, has gotten as much media attention during the recall as anyone other than Caitlyn Jenner. Faulconer is the kind of Republican who would not be a bad governor for this Democratic-majority state: he has generally fiscally conservative but socially liberal views. I am sick of seeing him on my local TV news for the last year talking up the recall; he looks like the opportunist that all these guys are. But he is easily the most qualified candidate among the 46.

Joel Ventresca: If you want to pick somebody because he's a Democrat, it should probably be this guy. He was an administrator at San Francisco airport for 34 years so he understands government and management, and his positions are reliably liberal.

Doug Ose: He spent three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives as a conservative anti-tax politician. While in Congress he tried to pass a bill outlawing the broadcasting of George Carlin's "7  Words You Can Never Say on Television;" inexplicably he replaced "tits" with "asshole." But on this ballot he's the second-most-qualified person. Ugh! (UPDATE: He had a heart attack and has ended his campaign, but he's still on the ballot.)

Dan Kapelovitz: A criminal defense attorney running on the Green Party ticket, his positions will be attractive to liberals. He doesn't have government experience but take a look at his platform; liberal but (unlike Paffrath and many others in this race) also practical about what he could actually accomplish as governor.

Jeff Hewitt: A member of the Riverside County board of supervisors, and it seems like he has been good at it. He's one of the few members of the Libertarian Party to win an election anywhere in the US. We could do a lot worse, but I don't see how he'll get enough support to win statewide.

Caitlyn Jenner: Come on, it's not gonna happen. She has zero experience at running anything, and she's a conservative Republican who conservative Republicans will not support. If they want a conservative media talking head with no other credentials they have Elder.

Denver Stoner: He's a deputy sheriff in rural Alpine County (population 1,129.) The county is actually Democratic but he's a Republican, and if he has political views he hasn't widely shared them. Love the name though, and I worry that some people will check that box thinking he's a Stoner. Busted!

I am a Democrat of the fiscally liberal variety (Sanders/Warren). But more than that or any specific position, I am a pragmatist. I want the person who will do the best job, (usually) regardless of party. I might vote for a Democrat I don't like for national office (cough cough Feinstein) to keep Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy from being majority leader, but I won't do that for state office. Don't be lulled by the hot-vax summer; California faces a continuing crisis, and we need the best leader we can have.

It's not Paffrath. I won't vote for him, even in a calculating leading-Democrat way. If I had to pick one of the three poll leaders, it would be (gulp) Cox the bear-baiter.

I am torn between Faulconer, who I think would be good at the job, and Kapelovitz, who could pull off a late upset if Paffrath's young supporters start paying attention. I like Hewitt well enough but I don't see how he could summon the support to win. Ventresca would be my Democratic candidate of choice but he has no traction in the race.

What I am personally going to do today is this: I'm going to hang onto my ballot for a while to see if anyone emerges from the scrum. I am probably going to vote for either Faulconer or Kapelovitz and I'll wait to see if either gathers any support in the polls.

UPDATE: A new SF Chronicle poll showed that Elder has the most support -- yikes -- and there's no close second, but Faulconer has as much support as any non-Elder candidate so that's who I'm going with. After voting NO of course.

But I'm not going to wait too long. The election is Sept. 14. Ballots must be postmarked by then. So you also can wait but do NOT forget.

To be extremely clear: Vote NO. NO!!!! HELL NO we don't want a talk-show host as governor during a pandemic.

After that, you have to make a choice. UPDATE: I went with Faulconer. Sigh. Seriously, I've been pissed off at this guy for the last year for his opportunism, and yet I'm going to reward him for it. This really is worse than a school-board election.

But that doesn't matter: if you don't want a talk-show host as governor, YOU HAVE TO VOTE!!!