Newsom’s Vow to Reopen is a High-stakes Political Gamble

Gov. Gavin Newsom is running two races this spring: The first is to clobber the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 60,000 Californians and devastated businesses and schools with unprecedented restrictions. The second is to keep his job, which could be threatened by a recall election later this year.

The two paths intersected this month as Newsom announced plans to fully reopen California businesses on June 15—if hospitalization rates remain low and the state has enough vaccines to inoculate all Californians who want a shot.

“We’re seeing death rates… go down. We’re seeing case rates stabilize. We have the lowest case rates in the United States of America,” Newsom said during a press conference in San Francisco. “On June 15, all things being equal, if we continue that good work… we’ll be opening up this economy (for) business as usual.”

At first blush, the political benefit seems obvious: The campaign attempting to throw Newsom out of office is fueled, in part, by anger over his decisions to close businesses, schools and churches amid the pandemic. His announcement that the state is planning to fully reopen could quell frustration and take some wind out of the recall campaign’s sails. The June 15 reopening happens to fall during a period when voters can remove their names from the recall petitions if they changed their minds.

But it’s not all upside. Newsom’s bold pronouncement about what he’ll do two months down the line—while infections are rising in other parts of the country, highly contagious coronavirus variants are spreading and the state says only 23% of Californians are fully vaccinated—also comes with a dose of political danger.

“It’s a really risky decision, but with a high percentage of success,” said Fernando Guerra, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

“The risk is that the fourth wave may hit California, he’s going to have to backtrack, reinstitute some of the restrictions, and then it will reinforce the whole rationale for the recall.”

The effort to oust the Democratic governor began before the year-long pandemic upended life in California. It was driven by conservative activists who oppose Newsom’s progressive stances on immigration, gun control and criminal justice. But the pandemic gave their campaign a massive shot of momentum, as many Californians got fed up with the state’s constantly shifting restrictions—and a judge ruled that recall supporters could have more time to gather signatures because of last year’s stay-at-home order.

So the course of the pandemic and the course of the recall have become intertwined, making it impossible to separate whether Newsom’s decisions about one are driven by the other. A poll last week found that 56% of Californians would vote against the recall—enough for Newsom to keep his job. But polls capture the mood at a specific moment in time and public opinion could change depending on how the state recovers from the pandemic.

“You cannot help but see every decision that is made in the sense of the recall,” Guerra said. “The pandemic determines the fact that we have the recall, and how the recall is going to play out.”

Though Newsom has been projecting optimism about the end of the pandemic for several weeks, today’s announcement was a big move that seemed to go beyond what he previously forecast. Last month, Newsom said he’d speed up business reopenings—but didn’t promise a full-scale reopening—after 4 million vaccine doses had been administered in the state’s hardest-hit communities. The state hit that number today, he said, allowing him to set the June 15 goal.

“The risk is that the fourth wave may hit California, he’s going to have to backtrack, reinstitute some of the restrictions, and then it will reinforce the whole rationale for the recall.” —Fernando Guerra, political science professor at Loyola Marymount University

Newsom said he’s monitoring the spread of variants, and that his decision to reopen is based on California’s low case rates and an expectation of sufficient supply of vaccines. A prominent epidemiologist said Newsom’s plan is prudent, and the president of the California Chamber of Commerce said it “is especially welcome news as we enter California’s peak tourism and recreation season.”

But supporters of the recall campaign cast it as a purely political move that still falls short of what Californians need.

“Gavin Newsom is making a political football out of reopening California; don’t be surprised when he moves the goalposts,” tweeted John Cox, the Republican businessman who lost to Newsom in 2018 and is running against him if the recall qualifies for the ballot.

Another GOP challenger, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said in a statement that “Newsom has shown that he’s only motivated by his own political survival, not doing what’s best for Californians.”

“If he truly wanted to help families across this state, he would reopen all public schools for in-person learning now.”

Even with the low rates of infection, California lags the rest of the nation in the portion of kids who attend school in-person. And while many schools in the state have begun to reopen this spring, they’re generally on hybrid schedules that only allow kids on campus for a few hours a week—making it difficult for many parents to work.

“The economy cannot reopen without schools fully and safely reopening as well, otherwise working parents, especially working mothers, will be left behind,” said a statement from Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, which represents the state’s largest companies.

“The schools must be a full partner in creating an equitable recovery and reopening, allowing all working families the opportunity to get back to work.”

Newsom said it’s his “expectation” that schools will fully reopen after June 15 and vowed that there will be “no barrier to having our kids back in in-person instruction.” But he did not commit to requiring that schools offer normal full-time schedules this fall—highlighting another political liability if the recall campaign is in full swing during back-to-school season and families are still scrambling to accommodate part-time class schedules and Zoom lessons from home.

CalMatters reporter Ben Christopher contributed to this story. CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

4 Comments

  1. The recall effort is also fueled, in large part, due to the fact that he is the quintessential snarky, entitled frat-rat boy. (Think about his previous extramarital affairs while he was mayor of SF with his friend/employee’s wife, his swanning about at the French Laundry flaunting his own “stay at home” order, and with no supporting science, he supported closing the public schools while his children attended in-person private schools.)

    And, there may be more Pretty-Boy peccadilloes pending:
    http://sjvsun.com/california/sacramento-waits-for-the-next-newsom-shoe-to-drop-alleged-affairs/

    Anything that he has done recently, or will do the rest of the year, that remotely resembles good governance, will be done to save his jack-in-the-box smirking arse from impeachment.

  2. “while infections are rising in other parts of the country, highly contagious coronavirus variants are spreading and the state says only 23% of Californians are fully vaccinated—also comes with a dose of political danger.”

    All articles must be sprinkled with fear mongering and catastrophizing.

    “So the course of the pandemic and the course of the recall have become intertwined, making it impossible to separate whether Newsom’s decisions about one are driven by the other.”

    No it’s very clear. Newsom’s decisions are driven by what he thinks will keep him from being recalled. That’s why he’s tossing out the silly tier system and social distancing non-sense. He’s hoping we forget what he did to us all before the recall vote He’s already destroyed millions of lives and businesses and the future for a generation of kids. No other governor in history has intentionally done more damage to his state. He really needs to go. We already have great depression levels of unemployment and it will take decades for that to recover.

  3. JOE SMITH you wrote:

    “All articles must be sprinkled with fear mongering and catastrophizing.”

    It may take some time for this to post because of moderation, but here is the substantiation regarding post COVID syndrome and its effect on the young (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/06/health/covid-children-mis-c.html) and (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/literature-review-shines-light-on-long-covid#Cardiovascular-symptoms) and finally (https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-hidden-long-term-cognitive-effects-of-covid-2020100821133)

    The information about ICU beds is here (https://www.sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/dashboard-hospitals.aspx#Occupancy) and here is the Santa Clara Blueprint status (https://www.sccgov.org/sites/covid19/Pages/blueprint-dashboard.aspx)

    I already have shown that the FDA cannot PROVE that the COVID tests are reliable regarding the variants, only 85% of the current ones are THOUGHT to not have a problem from Johns Hopkins seen here (https://www.jhsph.edu/covid-19/articles/variants-vaccines-and-what-they-mean-for-covid19-testing.html). But NOT proven. I think I am making a point here. INDEPENDENT research has proven your claim my notes are unsubstantiated is not true. You wrote:

    “So the course of the pandemic and the course of the recall have become intertwined, making it impossible to separate whether Newsom’s decisions about one are driven by the other.”

    So what you are saying is that you cannot determine whether Newsom is ACTUALLY doing what it takes to protect the people of CA or that he is doing a “power grab” and many have tried to argue? You wote:

    “No it’s very clear. Newsom’s decisions are driven by what he thinks will keep him from being recalled. That’s why he’s tossing out the silly tier system and social distancing non-sense.”

    Not if the next wave hits, that idea is CONTINGENT on the status of COVID infections, NOT set in stone. You wrote:

    “He’s hoping we forget what he did to us all before the recall vote He’s already destroyed millions of lives and businesses and the future for a generation of kids.”

    You again are blaming Newsom for the virus? The healthcare system that Newsom inherited had no capability to handle a pandemic because it was a PRIVATE FOR-PROFIT system. It NEVER had the capacity to handle the crisis. And Newsom, Trump or Biden could do NOTHING about it. You can thank the Health Care Insurance Association of America and the For-Profit Hospitals for getting us in this mess. You wrote:

    “No other governor in history has intentionally done more damage to his state.”

    WOW! Really, no other Governor in the state had an airborne virus with about a 2% death rate and a 20-30% long-term disability impact, did they? One is really going out on a limb in that statement. You wrote:

    “He really needs to go. We already have great depression levels of unemployment and it will take decades for that to recover.”

    During the Great Depression the country had 24.9% unemployment, I think we only reached halfway to that at this time. BUT the fact that businesses were just treading water prior to COVID killed them once they lost cash flows. BUT the real fear is that since the rest of the country is in the next wave of COVID, and there is no isolation of the states, CA is going to get another one.

    Everyone finds it so easy to pass the blame on a scapegoat, like Newsom, and the rest. But the REAL cause of the problem is that CA cannot on its own do anything to prevent spread of COVID. In fact EVERY time the businesses say they got this and it is time to reopen, we get another wave. WHERE is the proof that private business actually did anything WITHOUT the STATE or FEDERAL funding or rules to do anything positive regarding COVID?

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