California Democrats are failing the basic test of governance

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Will Gov. Gavin Newsom be the second Democratic governor of California to be recalled and removed from office in this (or the last) century? Polls suggest it’s possible.

It would be a startling result. We have just seen the second consecutive Democratic governor of New York ousted over sexual misconduct. It would be more politically significant for a second consecutive Democratic governor of California to get the boot for policy reasons.

Gray Davis, the governor recalled in 2003, had entered office determined to check the hyper-liberal legislature. But overspending got through anyway, and he backed driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants; he was also hurt by blackouts caused by a botched deregulation scheme he had no part in creating.

Newsom’s problems have a similar ring. He was elected in 2018 with 62 percent of the vote, the strongest showing since Earl Warren won his third term with 65 percent in 1950. There was little appetite for a recall last spring. But the most recent three polls this summer show 46 percent favoring recall. 

Why the shift? SurveyUSA polls showed Latinos, a quarter of the electorate, moving from opposing to backing recall. Berkeley polls show a similar trend among Latinos and Asians. The most recent Emerson poll shows Latinos favoring recall by 54 percent to 41 percent. 

Subgroup analysis is risky, because of high margins of error. But as Auric Goldfinger told James Bond, “once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time is enemy action.” Similar trends in three different polls looks like something real.

This movement against liberal policies makes sense once you realize that even low-income voters are less interested in economic redistribution than in the maintenance of order. Newsom, in a testy interview with McClatchy newspapers, boasts of the state’s large earned-income tax credit, but his lockdown policies have kept California’s unemployment rate at 7.7 percent, higher than all but three other states.

The income and wealth gaps in California, much greater than in most other states, were symbolized when Newsom broke his own rules and dined maskless indoors with lobbyists at the Michelin-three-star restaurant French Laundry last November.

People riding bikes past a homeless encampment in Venice, Los Angles on June 29, 2021.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Against this background of the well-connected rich — Newsom’s core constituency is San Francisco Bay-area big contributors — consider other results of California’s liberal policies. Some have resulted in visible disasters, like wildfires and electricity blackouts, while others — high housing prices and utility rates — loom large for modest-income households while easily brushed off by the rich. 

Homeless men by the thousands live under freeway overpasses or in stretches of Venice beachfront, ­despite (actually, because of) multimillion-dollar homeless programs. Thugs run through the aisles of chain drug stores filling their bags with goods they haul out, under security guards’ eyes, to waiting cars — the result of California voters’ lunatic approval of reclassifying thefts under $950 as misdemeanors, not felonies.

California hasn’t been immune either from the unprecedented — at least since statistics started being collected in 1960 — rise in homicides and other violent crimes. In response, Los Angeles partially defunded the police, and radical district attorneys elected in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties have declined to prosecute thousands of cases. 

Radio host Larry Elder may be Gov. Newsom's strongest competition in the recall election.
Radio host Larry Elder may be Gov. Newsom’s strongest competition in the recall election.
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, Fi

California’s Latinos, mostly the product of a 1982-2007 surge of ­migration from Mexico, may be ­responding to this disorder as California’s white homeowners, mostly the product of a 1940-1965 surge of migration from the Midwest, responded to the disorder of the Watts riots and Berkeley rebellions of the 1960s. The voters who had supported the liberal policies of Democratic Gov. Pat Brown switched in large numbers in 1966 to the conservative former Midwesterner Ronald Reagan. 

There’s no Reagan on the scene, unless it’s radio talk host Larry Elder, who seems ahead in the race to succeed Newsom if he’s recalled. It’s entirely possible that Newsom will be able to rally enough Dems to stay in office. But his current ads attacking former President Donald Trump don’t seem more effective than 1966 attempts to claim Reagan was another Barry Goldwater.

Lesson: The first duty of government is to provide a stable order in which people can live their lives. California’s liberal Democrats seem to be flunking.

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