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Recall Fever in California

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Recall Fever in California

Gavin Newsom might not be the only Golden State politician facing a reckoning. February 9, 2021
California
Politics and law

Recall fever is heating up in California. Key leaders are in trouble, starting at the top, with Governor Gavin Newsom, who faces a near-certain recall election. To date, more than 1.4 million state residents have added their names to the petition to oust him, as individuals, families, and companies flee to states like Arizona, Texas, and Nevada.

The exodus has plenty of causes. Homelessness has risen and encampments have sprung up in virtually every jurisdiction. California has the nation’s largest number of Covid-19 cases but also the strictest lockdown restrictions, which have left its economy and social fabric in tatters. Until recently, the majority of the state’s schools, office buildings, and places of worship were shuttered. Restaurants and bars, hair and nail salons, and fitness centers have experienced unpredictable bouts of government-mandated closures. Small-business owners, many forced to close up shop permanently, are particularly irate.

Meantime, Silicon Valley is being drained of its vitality. Miami mayor Francis Suarez has been enticing California’s best and brightest innovators to relocate from the West to the East Coast. As these employers move to more hospitable territory, so do valuable jobs.

The remaining Californians aren’t feeling so sunny. As all but diehard supporters began turning against him in January, Newsom lifted his stay-at-home orders in an attempt to win back public favor. It’s probably too late. If 1.5 million signatures are gathered by March 17, a recall will make it onto the ballot and a special election will take place. Excitement is building for possible Newsom replacements, from former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer to tech investor Chamath Palihapitiya.

Here in San Francisco, “kick the bums out” increasingly applies to city officials. District attorney Chesa Boudin, who has promoted a philosophy of restorative justice that has led to greater danger in every neighborhood, is on course to be expelled. After a New Year’s Eve disaster in which a career criminal, high on meth, killed two women while driving a stolen car, Richie Greenberg, a political commentator and 2018 candidate for San Francisco mayor, distributed a petition requesting Boudin’s immediate resignation. In just two weeks, it hit the 15,000 signatures necessary to proceed with a full recall. Residents, who are overwhelmingly to the left politically, had finally had enough.

Discontent with Boudin dates back to the beginning of his term in January 2020. He soon released approximately 40 percent of the San Francisco jail population, fired seven of the department’s best prosecuting attorneys, and declared that he would not prosecute “quality of life crimes.” As a result, perpetrators from within San Francisco and outlying areas have enjoyed virtual carte blanche to steal from stores, and repeated armed robberies are leading retailers to give up and close. Home invasions are becoming alarmingly commonplace. Most recently, a nine-year-old boy was home with his mother as a thief entered and stole $30,000 worth of property. In early February, an intoxicated man with a long rap sheet stole a car and caused a five-car collision that killed a young father and recent graduate of Dartmouth College. The driver was on supervised release for a similar crime committed just two months earlier.

Boudin should be nervous. He’s battling an avalanche of scorn in social and conventional media outlets, and his support has dwindled. Staunch political allies, such as city supervisor Dean Preston, a Democratic Socialist, portray the recall as a right-wing effort, but the characterization feels desperate. San Franciscans may be liberal, but they’re not stupid or crazy. Even Mayor London Breed has denounced the appalling lack of accountability and prosecution.

Members of the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education may be next on the chopping block. The city’s public schools remain closed for in-person instruction, and the board marches in lockstep behind the teachers’ union to keep it that way. Board members remain focused on their quixotic effort to rechristen 44 public schools named after such historically “problematic” figures as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and . . . Dianne Feinstein. The renaming process is a costly luxury, given that the district is already running a budget deficit of about $169 million. This latest crusade came after the board voted to lay waste to Lowell, the city’s famed and beloved magnet high school, deeming its merit-based application process racist. On top of all this, school board members have responded to parents’ objections with contempt. Board president Gabriela López, for example, tweeted a middle-finger emoji in response to one critic. In a New Yorker interview, López bumbled so badly through her reasons for renaming schools that she became a national embarrassment. As students might say, it was cringe.

If the public can unseat the state’s governor and the city’s district attorney for incompetence and abuse, why not the school board as well? Thus, López, school board vice president Alison Collins, and commissioner Faauuga Moliga are facing their own recall efforts, though all seven board members may be up for a purge if those leading the recall decide to wait six months before it’s legally allowable. Given the intensity of the backlash, a complete overthrow may be in order.

In California, change is definitely in the air.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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