Why Newsom Needs to be Recalled

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I am a native Californian and have lived here since 1962. California has always had its fair share of problems, some episodic and others chronic. The one absolute constant problem is the water supply, which relies primarily on snowmelt from the Sierra mountains and is thus susceptible to drought years. Since California is the largest agricultural producer in the nation, water is critical for farmers, residential consumers, and wildlife. You wouldn’t know there’s a problem, though, if you peruse Governor Gavin Newsom’s website, or, for that matter, the official California website, CA.gov.

Here is an excerpt from Newsom’s splash page:

The California Dream — the idea that every person can achieve a better life, regardless of where they start out — is central to who we are as Californians.  Even in a time of economic growth and record employment, too many Californians are experiencing the squeeze of stagnant wages and the rising price of building-block necessities such as housing, health care, education, and child care. We can and must reanimate the California Dream, building a California for All.

This is a manifestation of Newsom’s priorities for California: housing, health care, education, and child care. The problem with this list is not that these priorities are unimportant, but rather that the most obvious chronic problem facing California, water supply, is ignored completely. For that matter, there are other chronic problems that are ignored: reliable energy supply, infrastructure decay (especially poorly maintained roads), traffic congestion, and poorly managed rural lands that have caused devastating and deadly wildfires. Notice how Newsom’s priorities are social programs aligned with special interests. If you replace “housing, health care, education, and child care” with “the homeless industrial complex, taxpayer subsidized health insurance, and teachers’ unions (with childcare a subset of that), you get the picture. Also, note that priorities left off the list also reflect Newsom-aligned interest groups. For example, one solution to the water supply problem is additional storage capacity, which is opposed by environmentalists. Newsom has the endorsement of the Sierra Club, among others. By the way, added storage capacity is not my favorite, either. I support tertiary treatment of pre-treated wastewater over things like added storage or desalinization of seawater.

Newsom’s priorities seem driven not by a desire to solve California’s most obvious chronic problems that affect all Californians, but instead by special interest groups that are his most ardent supporters. The rest of the splash page has several updates on COVID response, which is also important, but is not a chronic problem. It’s not even an episodic problem (please, Lord, make it not episodic). Californians deserve a governor who is willing to address chronic problems here, instead of just the problems that are favored by his aligned special interests. Yes, the chronic problems are complicated and have developed over many years, but that is not an excuse for ignoring them. Compare Newsom in this regard to his immediate predecessor, Jerry Brown, who took a complicated, politically fraught problem like pension reform, and, more broadly, the perilous state of California’s finances, and moved the ball significantly on both problems. Here’s another example of Newsom’s unwillingness to address difficult problems: whether or not you agree with Brown’s high-speed rail initiative, Newsom’s “solution” was to simply halt the project after billions of dollars had already been spent.

A large part of the focus of the recall effort has been Newsom’s response to the pandemic, which has seemed heavy-handed to many residents, with questionable lockdowns and other restrictions on daily life. And, of course, there’s the nausea-inducing spectacle of Newsom flouting his own lockdown to party it up at one of the most exclusive restaurants in the country, Napa’s famous French Laundry. While Newsom deserves all the scorn rained down on him for that incident, it is a sideshow, really. Its only long-term value may be to awaken the residents of California to Newsom’s shallow approach to governing the state and his reluctance to address California’s chronic problems.

Finally, there’s the issue of Newsom’s dereliction as the head of California’s administrative bureaucracy. There hasn’t been a lot of reporting on the billions of dollars in fraud discovered in California’s unemployment insurance program, but it is an outrage and as the chief executive of the state, he bears ultimate responsibility.

When Newsom was elected governor, I had my doubts about him, primarily based on his performance as the mayor of San Francisco. Specifically, he made addressing the problem of homelessness a priority there, but didn’t move the ball an inch, and the problem of homelessness in San Francisco has only gotten worse since his departure. I was open to the possibility that he might do a good job as governor because he was Brown’s protégé, had some business experience, and sounded like a moderate. By now, there’s plenty of evidence that Newsom is out of his depth and lives in a bubble populated by his friends, supporters, and special interests. His failure to talk seriously about, or take any steps to address California’s chronic problems is the most glaring example. That is why I plan to vote in favor of the recall.

Image: Thomas Hawk

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