Ralph Waldo Emerson said “when you strike at a king, you must kill him.” Gov. Gavin Newsom is no king, and last month’s recall campaign was not intended to harm him physically. But it’s foolish to believe he won’t respond as a monarch who narrowly missed losing his crown would.
The recall failure has emboldened the man. He now feels he has a greater mandate than ever before to push through his blue-state agenda. In the recall results, the governor saw a California where the opposition to progressive policies is so weak, and so utterly irrelevant to the work of the state’s ruling class, that he and the legislature can roll right over those who see politics and policy differently.
They’re a group to be punished for daring to challenge his office. A no-exceptions vaccine mandate through an executive order – in a state where COVID-19 infections and deaths have plummeted – would be the ideal way to start teaching the right-wingers who are “impacting the rest of us in a profound and devastating and deadly way” a proper lesson.
Had there been no recall election, can anyone doubt that Newsom would have reinstated the harshest, most freedom-injuring pandemic policies in the country as the Delta variant began to spread in July? Because his handling of the pandemic, and his five-star hypocrisy, stoked the recall effort, he knew he couldn’t afford to return to his lockdown roots with the election only two months away. His concern was backed up by polling, which strongly suggested at roughly the same time the Delta variant infections started to increase that he might be removed from office.
Now out of danger, Newsom can get back to his Blue State business. Almost right away, he said “that we need to stiffen our spines” against the novel coronavirus, “and lean in to keeping people safe and healthy.” Which sounds unobjectionable as a statement of aspiration but is much more likely to be quite unpleasant in practice to a large segment of the state. When an elected official claims he has a “moral authority” to pursue an agenda, which Newsom says he now has as a survivor of the recall, someone is bound to get hurt.
Newsom, who’s been working his way up California politics since the 1990s, had never appeared to be the vindictive sort, such as, say, a Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. But then the recall race tightened up. The now-famous “damn” interview in August with editorial boards from McClatchy’s California newspapers made it obvious that the pressure was getting to him. He lashed out at the journalists who were interviewing him, “everybody outside this state,” and “our homegrown team.” He also made it clear that he feels threatened by Texas, because he made a comparison between the states that he couldn’t back up.
At that point, it became clear that a cornered Newsom was capable of punishing his political enemies.
Of course, the walls that were closing in are now gone. So the “left-leaning advocacy organizations” that “are ready with a list of ideas” – such as a new focus on taxpayer-provided health care and climate – for Newsom to turn into policy will have an extra-attentive governor at the table.
“When you face a recall … it sharpens your focus about time,” Newsom said. “Things that you may have looked at on the horizon and said, ‘You know over the next two, three years, we want to get this done,’ you start looking very differently and say, ‘What’s possible in the next two to three months?’”
British journalist Piers Morgan, who has lived and worked in California, and still has a home in Los Angeles, noted this month that, “empowered by his recent recall election win, Newsom fired off a raft of laws that included making it illegal to use gas-powered ‘off-road engine engines’ including leaf-blowers, lawnmowers, and golf carts, ordered schools to teach all students ‘ethnic studies’, and large toy stores to have gender-neutral sections.”
Newsom tried to strike a conciliatory tone after the recall election, telling his recall opponents they “matter,” that he cares and wants them to know he’s “going to have their backs as well.” But he made a similar statement in his 2019 inaugural address, saying it was his administration’s mission to build a “California for all,” and promising “we will not be divided between rural and urban or north and south or coastal and inland.”
“We will strive for solidarity,” he said, “and face our most threatening problems – together.”
Newsom has another chance to make good on that pledge. But the bet here is that at the end of his term or terms, the state will be more divided than ever. There’s nothing he can do that will please both his supporters in the rich coastal enclaves and in Sacramento, and the redder parts of California that feel for good reason they’ve been downgraded to second-class status.
Kerry Jackson is a freelance writer who lives in California.