In this Nov. 21, 2020, file photo, demonstrators shout slogans while carrying a sign calling for a recall on Gov. Gavin Newsom during a protest against a stay-at-home order amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nancy Solomon: I'm Nancy Solomon, in for Tanzina Vega, and you're listening to The Takeaway. Opponents of California Governor Gavin Newsom have officially gained enough signatures to begin the process of recalling and replacing the Democratic leader. More than 1.6 million people signed the petition in favor of recalling the California governor, citing his handling of the pandemic and frustrations with the housing crisis and the high cost of living in the state.
At least nine people, including Republican trans activist Caitlyn Jenner have already declared their intentions to run against the governor. It's been nearly 20 years since California last had a recall election, and here to help us understand what comes next is Nicole Nixon, politics reporter for CapRadio in Sacramento. Nicole, thanks for joining us.
Nicole Nixon: Hey, thanks for having me.
Nancy Solomon: Explain for us how Newsom ended up in this situation and who was behind this push for a recall?
Nicole Nixon: This recall is organized by regular citizens, which is just one of the many reasons it's so remarkable. A few things really came together for this. The first is that the organizers a few months ago went to a judge and asked for more time to collect signatures, to put this before voters, and they got it because of the pandemic. They got almost twice the amount of time to collect signatures. This was around the same time that Gavin Newsom went to this very fancy restaurant in Napa Wine Country for a birthday party for a friend with the big group of people at the same time that he was telling everyone else in California to stay home and avoid those types of gatherings.
Nancy Solomon: So, not a good look.
Nicole Nixon: Yes, exactly. That really lit a fire under this recall campaign. It made people very angry. It helped the recall folks get more than two million signatures total to put this on the ballot.
Nancy Solomon: There has also been a lot of upset about California school closures. Public schools have yet to fully reopen in the state. How much is that also feeding into this?
Nicole Nixon: Yes. California is at or near the bottom nationally of percent of kids back in classrooms, and this has really upset a lot of parents over the past two, three months here. We actually just got some new polling data on this, though. It found that almost two-thirds of public school parents actually approve of how Newsom has been handling schools during the pandemic.
Even though there are concerns that kids are falling behind academically, that schools still won't be fully reopened in the fall, they approve of the way he has handled this. That's good news for him, although there still are some warning signs for him there.
Nancy Solomon: How does this process work exactly? Walk us through the steps.
Nicole Nixon: Right now, we are in this window where anyone who signed a recall petition has a chance to remove their name. It was earlier this week that the secretary of state said there are enough valid signatures for this to move forward. There's a chance now for people to take their names off. There is a small team of Democrats working on that.
That's one way that they could sort of fend off this recall by finding people to remove their names, but it is a long shot. Then, after that, the State spends the rest of the summer coming up with a cost estimate for a recall election. It's only then that the Lieutenant governor could call a recall election, which based on this timeline will probably be sometime in November that people actually vote on this.
Nancy Solomon: What do Democrats-- What's their plan for how to manage this crisis?
Nicole Nixon: The actual recall itself, they are hoping to keep the party united behind Newsom. The one thing they do not want is another big name Democrat going rogue and putting themselves in the mix as a possible replacement. That's what happened in the last recall in 2003. The Lieutenant governor at that time, his name is Cruz Bustamante, he ran as a replacement just in case, kind of as an insurance policy.
His slogan was "No on the recall, yes on Bustamante," which is a really confusing message for voters. I'll just point out that California looks very different than it did 18 years ago during that last recall. The state is a much deeper shade of blue, Democrats have a lot more power, and Newsom himself has a lot higher approval ratings than the governor did in that last recall.
Nancy Solomon: That was the one when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger won the election. Just to put a final point on that, the Democrat running didn't really help Governor Gray Davis at all.
Nicole Nixon: Right.
Nancy Solomon: Does Newsom have a strategy for, I mean you talked about they're trying to keep big name Democrats off the ballot. Is that it, or does he have any other strategy for avoiding losing his seat?
Nicole Nixon: For sure. He's painting this recall as a Republican recall driven by Trump supporters, political extremists queuing on people. He's calling it a distraction from the state's recovery. Things are looking pretty good here. We have the lowest COVID rates in the nation. He has this plan to fully reopen the economy in six weeks here. He is making the case and can continue to make that case that things are on the upswing here and he can handle it and bring the state out of the pandemic.
Nancy Solomon: We were talking at my dinner table last night about Caitlyn Jenner and how kind of unlikely it seems that she would win the election, but then, I don't think too many people took Donald Trump seriously in 2015. What is that looking like in the state?
Nicole Nixon: The reaction to Caitlyn Jenner is really interesting because she came out, and a lot of LGBT groups said they actually would not support her because of her support for Trump previously. Also, her website is full of merchandise you can buy, but there aren't any policy proposals on there yet, which a lot of people have pointed out. She's also just one of many Republicans running.
The former mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, is in, and before all of this started, he was seen as the most likely Republican to take on Newsom in 2022, which is when the governor is up for re-election again. There's another slate of Republican, former elected officials, a former Congressman from the Sacramento area have already announced that they're running too. It'll be a crowded field on the Republican side, and there aren't so many Republican voters in this state to begin with.
Nancy Solomon: Right. Republicans in California haven't won a statewide election in 15 years, so it'll be an interesting one to watch. Nicole Nixon is a politics reporter for CapRadio in Sacramento. Thanks so much for joining us today.
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