California voters will most certainly have to go to the polls later this year as they face the decision to kick their governor Gavin Newsom out of office as the recall effort has gained enough signatures for the vote to happen. As the campaign for his recall begins to heat up, it looks as Newsom’s plan to win the recall vote will be based on using the astonishing $75.7 billion surplus California reported for 2020 by giving checks to middle-class families across the state.
Newsom has faced fierce criticism over his handling of the pandemic in his state and saw in February how his approval ratings plummeted to less than 50%, from a high of more than 60% in September. With public opinion turning against him as it was revealed that he hosted an unmasked dinner at an expensive restaurant while the rest of the state was under lockdown.
However, he has recently found some reasons to be optimistic about his chances of surviving the recall election later this year with a Berkely’s poll showing that 49% of registered voters would vote against the recall effort, while 36% would vote for it and 15% of voters remained undecided.
California is an electoral dreamland for Democrats, with President Biden winning the state by a whopping 63.5% of the vote in 2020 and with no Republican winning a statewide election since Arnold Schwarzenegger won his reelection bid for the governor’s mansion in 2006, Newson himself won his election by 61.9% in 2018.
However, the mere fact that the Californian Republican Party was able to mobilize their base to sign enough signatures to get the recall vote should be worrisome for the governor. Especially when taking into account the fact that Newsom’s approval ratings (53%) are significantly lower than those of Biden, who commands 60% of favourable opinions among Californians.
Even if California is a significantly different state than the last time a recall vote ousted a sitting governor in 2003, a recall election always presents an impending risk for the sitting governor and allows the opposition party to mobilize their voters. This is why if Newsom wants to keep his seat are until 2022, he will need to act fast.
Will Newsom’s plan to win work?
While recent poll data has been somewhat positive for Gov. Newsom, his position is definitely not a safe one (a maxim that could be applied to politics in general) and he still is barely under 50% of voter intention in a state so Democratic that not even a resuscitated Abe Lincoln would be able to win, it is here where the surplus reported by the California government comes into play.
The governor has said he plans to use this unexpected surplus, in part generated by the growth of tech companies during the pandemic and the rise in capital gains tax due to the bullish stock market, to finance $600 payments to those who earn between $30,000-$75,000 with those households with at least one child earning up to an additional $500.
Newsom’s gamble is quite straightforward: he hopes that the heavily Democratic environment of his state, the largely successful vaccination rollout, and now the proposed stimulus checks to Californians will make voters forget the worst parts of the COVID pandemic, which left almost 61,000 dead and which had left an 8.3% unemployment rate (as of March).
Opponents of Gov. Newsom have dismissed the plan, with the former mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, pushing the governor to focus on tax reform instead and businessman John Cox calling it a “publicity stunt”.
Maybe Newsom’s plan will work, and he will be able to surf the COVID recovery and the positive feeling left after his tax rebate, a proposal that the conservative National Review has called a “bribe”.
There is one key question that many Republican lawmakers have started to ask themselves as the California government plans to expend their unexpectedly huge: If California is doing so well that it has a surplus that is over $50 billion, why has the Federal government allocated billions of dollars in “relief” efforts?
Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) raised this point in a tweet posted from his account earlier this week, saying it was a “crying shame” that the Federal Government borrow billions of dollars and send many (at least $26 billion) to a state that was showing to be in great fiscal shape despite the 2020 pandemic.
The Federal Government sending billions of dollars to a state that is already in sound fiscal positioning (at least for the year) while the governor uses millions has been heavily criticized by conservative commentators, with Charles Cook from the National Review accusing Democrats has used its control of the Federal government to borrow money and give part of it to California so its governor could “try to bribe his way out of a recall election by sending his voters cash”.