Vote NO on the Newsom recall

He was a bad mayor and is a bad governor—but the alternatives are way, way worse and the national implications are scary.

Newsom in 2008. Photo via Wikipedia

If there’s a publication in San Francisco that has been as critical of Gavin Newsom as the Bay Guardian, we aren’t aware of it.

We have never endorsed Newsom for any local office. We strongly opposed his approach to attacking homeless people, which vaulted him into the Mayor’s Office. We opposed his budgets and policies, which favored the rich over everyone else. 

In just over one term, he created both the failed SFMTA and the city’s failed homeless policy. He fronted SPUR’s “Muni reform” that created the deeply dysfunctional agency that has driven the nation’s first municipally owned transit system to its knees, locked in what the current head of that agency repeatedly calls a “death spiral.”

In that same brief period as mayor he also created the political and policy framework—”care not cash”—for San Francisco’s disastrous homeless policy and paired it with a disdain for robust public-sector action to support and sustain affordable housing development, a position he has carried into the Governor’s office.

In short, Gavin Newsom created the political and policy context of twin disasters that challenge San Francisco to this day: affordable housing and public transit.

While Newsom was mayor, San Francisco became a worse place, not a better place.

He hasn’t done much better as governor. The state is on fire—and Newsom, as when he was mayor, has made no effort to break up and let public agencies take over PG&E. Instead, as his own appointees allowed the company to devastate the state, his only response has been to look for ways to bail out the monopoly.

He’s backed the Yimby bills to let real-estate developers control local land use. He can’t figure out what to do about high-speed rail (an absolute necessity for the state’s future in a time of climate crisis). He’s way too close to the same Sacramento lobbyists who support Republican policies.

And then came COVID.

His administration, filled with political ops pretending to be able to “get things done for Californians” failed to notice that Jerry Brown cut the public health budget to the bone for budget after budget, including money to maintain emergency supplies like personal protective equipment for health workers, and takes no corrective action to fill the empty stocks.

Newsom should not be held responsible for any failures in the first months of the pandemic because no government was prepared to respond to a world-wide and fast moving chaos of an airborne virus. 

But he caved early to “business interests” and opened up too soon, as red state governors would do later and contrary to the line of the current recallers. When he was forced by events to mandate closure of businesses and offices and produce effective public programs was when his true incompetence and preference for no-bid billion-dollar contracts to private sector players was revealed.

And then there is unemployment. Without a huge digression into the multi-level failures of the state, it has been clear for more than a year that the process and response is a dismal failure that has actually hurt unemployed Californians.

The state vaccination program was handed over to a private health company with a long record of political contributions to him by way of a no-bid contract negotiated by Newsom’s staff. 

Gavin Newsom is a corporate Democrat. Corporate Democrats always play fast and loose, always on the lookout for a “win-win” deal with the private sector in which all the risk is public and all the profits private.

Newsom has always been first and foremost about Gavin Newsom. His policies are and always have been contrived to promote his career. And his reaction to this recall is no different.

Newsom’s arrogance, and that of his close advisors, allowed him to act this spring as if the recall was nothing but a nuisance and that he would survive easily. He did nothing to excite or encourage progressive voters, just assuming that—as we did in the last election—we could go with him because there are no options.

And that attitude—and his political wrangling—scared off any left-leaning candidate who might have both encouraged progressive turnout and been a credible alternative if (and it’s now a real possibility) Newsom loses this one. 

That was almost certainly a strategic mistake—both for the governor and for the California progressive movement.

So now we are stuck with a series of far-right-bordering-on-looney Republicans who might possibly win governing the largest state in the nation at a critical time. We’re talking about people who don’t believe in the minimum wage, who don’t believe in science, who are supporters of Donald Trump.

There’s no way right now that any Republican can get elected governor in this state—unless the recall succeeds. And if it does, the outcome would be terrible.

Let’s not forget: The US Senate is split 50-50. If—and it seems more and more likely every day—Dianne Feinstein is unable to finish her term, a GOP governor would put a Republican in that seat—until 2025. That would be the end of the Democratic majority.

We get the enthusiasm issue. We aren’t thrilled about going out of our way to support a candidate who promised us single-payer health care, then backed off the minute he took office. It’s hard to go walk the streets for someone who has done nothing about income inequality.

But it’s time for all of us on the left to come to terms with the consequences of sitting this out or voting Yes. There are massive national implications.

There are two questions on the ballot: Should we recall Newsom, and who should replace him. Because of the cowardice of Democrats, there is no credible alternative. There is nobody you can choose on the back side of the ballot. We are leaving it blank.

Newsom will be up for re-election in just 15 months. We strongly encourage a progressive candidate to take him on in the primary. 

But for now, hold your nose and vote No on the Newsom recall.