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Newsom recall gains steam as Californians fume over Democrat governor’s pandemic actions

“You just can’t underestimate the depth of people’s anger,” said Susan Kennedy, a former top California gubernatorial aide

Updated: December 15, 2020 - 9:23am

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The recall campaign targeting Gov. Gavin Newsom is looking less like a long-shot bid, as Californians show signs of increasing dissatisfaction with how the Democrat is handling the coronavirus pandemic.

"The recall is halfway there," Orrin Heatlie, who is leading the effort, recently told local TV station KPIX-TV. 

Heatlie, a retired sergeant with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, said 820,000 people have already "weighed in" on the issue and predicted at least 820,000 more will do the same in the next couple of months. 

To be sure, those numbers would, if accurate, put the effort daringly close to the 1.5 million valid signatures needed to recall the first-term governor, who has frequently been mentioned as a future presidential candidate.  

The "Recall Gavin Newsom" campaign – which even sells merchandise like coronavirus face shields emblazoned with the slogan – recently scored a big win when a superior court judge extended the signature deadline from Nov. 17 to March 17, 2021, accepting the argument the pandemic hurt efforts to circulate petitions.

But a series of missteps by Newsom also has helped the effort and has him poised to become the state's second Democratic governor in roughly the past 17 years to be recalled. 

In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis was ousted in a recall effort largely fueled by residents upset with skyrocketing energy bills. 

“You just can’t underestimate the depth of people’s anger,” former top Davis aide Susan Kennedy recently told the Associated Press.

She thinks Newsom – whose approval rating has dropped to 59% from as high as 70% – could rebound, depending up how well he handles the vaccine distribution and the economic recovery from the now nine-month-long pandemic.

Yet not everyone agrees. 

“I believe that by the beginning of next year you’re going to see those numbers decrease even more so,” Clint Griess, another recall petition leader, in San Francisco, told KPIX.

Newsom's troubles started in November when, amid rising COVID-19 infections, he declared he was putting an “emergency brake” on reopening the economy.

“California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet – faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer," he said. "The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes.”

Newsom's new regulations put 41 of the state’s 58 counties in the most restrictive of the four-tier system, which affects 37 million residents.

The move stopped reopening plans, banned indoor worship, shut down many businesses, and closed schools.

Days later, Newsom and his wife attended a birthday party with a dozen of friends at the expensive French Laundry restaurant in Napa, north of San Francisco. The governor said the dinner, for a lobbyist friend, was outdoors, but pictures told a different story.

Newsom eventually apologized.

"I made a bad mistake," he said. "I should have stood up and ... drove back to my house. The spirit of what I’m preaching all the time was contradicted. I need to preach and practice, not just preach."

Adam Housley, a former Fox News correspondent, recently claimed that the dinner was attended by 22 guests, not 12, who ran up a bar bill of over $15,000.

“Because Yountville is my hometown ... and where the French Laundry is located ... I thought I’d do some digging," Housley tweeted. "No masks. All indoors. They got so loud, other patrons complained." 

Newsom received praise from the mainstream media when he became the first U.S. governor to order the first statewide stay-at-home order in the spring. But last month, when he ordered a statewide lockdown again, few were happy.

Recall supporters have also blasted Newsom over tax increases, the high rate of homelessness, sanctuary city policies, suspension of the death penalty, rationing water use and the restriction of parental rights.

His problems in handling the virus started this summer.

In July, Newsom ordered certain businesses across 19 counties to scale back their operations, including restaurants, wineries and tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos and museums, card rooms and bars.

However, Newsom's own winery and tasting room in Napa Valley was allowed to stay open. Madera County wineries were exempt from the order because it was not one of those on the list.

Newsom also owns stock in PlumpJack Group, which includes a winery in Napa Valley's Oakville, FOX26-TV reported.

"According to Gov. Newsom's 2018 tax filings, he and his wife own shares in the group that produced a combined salary of nearly $600,000 in 2018, the station also reported.

In addition, several companies in which Newsom has investments reportedly received a total of nearly $3 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans that Congress passed to help businesses keep employees on the payroll during the COVID-19 recession

Then there was the flap over Newsom's children having an advantage over their peers amid the pandemic because they attend private school.

Across the state, 37 of 58 counties had no children in classrooms because of the virus.

But in October, Newsom said his children "have returned to in-person learning under a "phased-in approach," as many schools across the state remain shuttered due to Covid-19 – including nearly all public schools in Sacramento County where the governor lives, Politico reported.

"The Newsom children's return to school reinforces concerns from lawmakers that families who can afford private schools have a jumpstart, further widening the achievement gap," the website reported.

Newsom is pushing back against the recall. In June, he issued a statement saying it will cost state taxpayers $81 million. He also asserted, without offering proof, that the recall is being led by supporters of President Trump.

“There are a lot of ambitious Republicans who want to be governor but would rather not play by the rules,” Newsom political strategist Dan Newman told the Associated Press.

He has also reportedly hired veteran state capitol insider Jim DeBoo as a senior adviser, which could help him repair frayed relationships with legislators and bring sharper political instincts to his office.

Newsom also just named Dee Dee Myers, a White House press secretary for President Bill Clinton, as director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.