It’s on. California will vote on whether to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 14.

I am deeply conflicted on the question. I am opposed to recalls on principle. In 2003, I was one of the few conservatives to oppose the recall of then-governor Gray Davis. My reasoning hinged on what you might call the Ed Koch rule. After the New York City mayor lost his bid for a fourth term, he was often asked if he’d ever run again. His standard response: “No! The people threw me out and now they must be punished.”

Democracy works best when voters, politicians and especially parties have to bear the brunt of their mistakes.

The problem with recall efforts is that they often focus on individual personalities, not policies. They end up being about spite. As a result, they tend to let parties off the hook.

California’s problems — homelessness, crime, tax flight, etc. — are largely the result of years of one-party rule. The only way to cure one-party rule is to reform the opposing party — in this case, the GOP — to be competitive. Recalls put off that reckoning.

Davis was unpopular for a number of reasons, but the recall boiled down to a referendum on his personality (or lack of one) and the possibility of replacing him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, a celebrity with personality to spare.

Schwarzenegger didn’t revitalize the Republican Party in California. Much like Donald Trump, another celebrity politician, Schwarzenegger saw the party as nothing more than a tool of convenience for his own ambitions. (This seems to explain California gubernatorial candidate Caitlyn Jenner’s thinking as well.) His governorship accelerated the descent of his party into dysfunctional crankery, in part by making the state’s woes a superficially bipartisan affair.

I still don’t like recalls. But California may be an exception to the rule precisely because the California GOP seems unsalvageable at this point. Republicans are outnumbered 2 to 1 statewide, but even that disparity masks the larger structural imbalance in how voters are distributed.

Democrats have stable supermajorities in both houses of the California Legislature. Given the power of incumbency, partisanship, liberal special interests and, again, the dumpster fire that is the state Republican Party, it’s unlikely voters will have meaningful alternatives any time soon.

So, what recourse do Californians rightly upset with the status quo have? They can vote with their feet — as many are in record numbers. Or, they can use the only means available to them: the direct democracy mechanisms instituted by Gov. Hiram Johnson, a progressive, in 1911. And that’s what they’ve been doing.

In 2020, a year when Joe Biden crushed Donald Trump in California by nearly 30 percentage points, California voters nonetheless rejected a number of progressive ballot measures on taxes, rent control, gig-economy workers and bail reform.

But the stunning failure of Proposition 16 — which would have repealed Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that banned public agencies, including universities, from considering race, gender or ethnicity for decisions in contracting, hiring and student admissions — was the most telling. Supported by every major Democratic official in the state with an estimated 15 to 1 funding advantage, it still failed by 14 percentage points.

In a state with a healthy, competitive two-party system — a state where calling valuable reforms a “Republican proposal” isn’t a fatal insult — the GOP would be able take advantage of the fact that the Democratic Party is out of step with its own voters. Since that’s impossible, having the voters themselves serve as a counterweight to one-party rule seems preferable.

That said, I still think the California recall effort is about spite. In the wake of the pandemic, voters are understandably cranky, and Newsom is almost a caricature of what people don’t like about unaccountable “do as I say, not as I do” progressive politicians. His disastrous dinner at French Laundry, in defiance of his own guidelines, almost seemed scripted by screenwriters to distill the arrogance of politicians.

Newsom’s style of governance seems to be about exactly that: style.

Hence my ambivalence. On the one hand, in an age when politics is driven by personalities, holding the personalities accountable is better than nothing. On the other hand, the recall will almost surely fail, and an emboldened Newsom (and Democratic Party) will take all the wrong lessons from that.

Direct democracy in California is a necessary bulwark against the excesses of one-party rule, but it’s insufficient in the long run. The only lasting fix for one-party rule is two-party competition. And that remains a pipe dream in California for the foreseeable future.

2021, Tribune Content Agency

(14) comments

LVW

I get back from vacation, and you guys are still singing the same silly tune. Biden didn't get those votes? You figure -- what -- some clever Democrats manufactured 5 million or so votes and none of the 50 secretaries of state or who-knows-how-many judges didn't notice? The same Democratic brain trust that thought Hillary Clinton was a good candidate in 2016?

Let me make this simple for you. When Trump thought Biden was going to get the nomination, he was (correctly) very concerned that he would lose the election to Grandpa Joe, so he started this entire "stolen election" fairy tale. And you folks bought that self-serving lie, like you bought all the other garbage Trump spoon fed you throughout his campaign and reign. The master manipulator has hypnotized you once again. You should be embarrassed.

bishopsboy

LVW: Sounds like you're still recovering from those little fruity drinks you had on vacation. Did the pink dancing elephants have President Trump's face on them?

prodigalson

LOL. Good one Bishop.

billnonymous

California is run by America hating criminal Democrats who stepped over the corpse of Kate Steinle, a murdered American citizen, to run to the defense of the illegal alien who murdered her. Their only concern was for the murderer's welfare, making sure he had a good lawyer and a crooked liberal judge to toss the charges against him while Kate's family mourned and buried thier murdered daughter.

bootsielawson

TRUMP WON!

billnonymous

Everyone knows that babbling, clueless, whispering, moody, dementia suffering puppet, Xo Xiden, did not get 81,000,000 votes. That brain dead moron could not (and STILL cannot) get 1,000 supporters to show up to an online event and could not (and STILL cannot) get even 100 people (including the press) to show up at a public event. Trump STILL gets 30 to 40 THOUSAND people to show up to his events. Everywhere Xiden goes, his supporters are FAR outnumbered by American flag waving Trump supporters, an act that terrifies Democrats. How dare those Trump supporters carry, what Democrats consider a divisive, racist symbol of hatred, our cherished American flag, around?? But Xiden got tens of millions more votes than even Obama? Laughable!

On Election Day, 5 crooked US counties colluded to shut down their vote counting at the exact same time, with Trump winning in all 5 counties. When they turned the machines back on and resumed counting, Biden was, magically, in the lead in all 5 counties. Those 5 counties turned Election Day into Election Month, complete with thousands of ballots coming in from out of state trucks, with return addresses from empty college dorm buildings, office complexes, and WalMarts; dozens of ballots with the exact same return address of one single family home, thousands of ballots with the same last name from counties where only a few dozen registered voters have that last name; thousands of ballots in GA that, to this day, have no chain of cutody; Democrats throwing out Republican poll watchers and taping pizza boxes over the windows then claiming it was 'a fair, honest process.' Democrats claiming major water leaks forced them to evacuate only Republicans then, when the coast was clear, pulling suitcases of ballots out from under desks and running them through vote counting machines, over and over, all on video. Would Democrats find any of this legitmate if they lost? Of course not. Would they accept Tea Party members running vote counting operations where they use the police to remove Democrats from the area? No. Would they accept pizza boxes being taped over windows so they can't see what is going on? Of course not. Yet the same hypocrite Democrats shrug their shoulders and say, "sure, I can see 10,000 ballots with the last name Rodriguez coming in from a county that has 100 registered voters with the last name Rodriguez. What's the problem?" Their comeuppance is coming and when Trump wins in 2024 with 300,000,000 votes, Democrats better shut up about it being voter fraud because, to Democrats, there is simply no such thing.

prodigalson

Excellent post Billy.

DeftCurmudgeon

By A Lot !

freeride

California is being run by crooks and thugs...Dems....same thing! California never saw better days than when Reagan was Gov, and the country never saw better days until Donald Trump stepped into the White House. The Dems can't stand to see success from a Republican or the GOP and will use any means to shut it down or discredit it. They are the most jealous, envious, destructive group in America and are causing more hate, division, and hopelessness than I have ever seen. 237 people killed in this country over the 4th of July weekend and the majority were killed in cities run by Democrats....how much clearer does it have to be that Democrats should NEVER be in charge.

LVW

I lived in CA for 5 years, and it seems to me that Goldberg is correct in saying that the state Dem party is out of step with the population. While I found it true that the people I knew (hard-working professionals all) had little tolerance for the typical self-righteous GOP BS, they were also quite moderate in fiscal matters and quite practical in general. It seems like that state could use a more moderate GOP ... sort of a GOP Joe Manchin.

bishopsboy

Let California fail. Liberals have set the state on a path of unsustainability as socialism always does. Only when the Lefties are eating from dumpsters and living in cardboard boxes will some of them see the errors of their ways.

prodigalson

Great post Bishop. I agree with you. Unfortunately though, liberals are nothing if not arrogant and condescending, and even when their state descends into Venezuelan style chaos, very few of them will admit their failures and repent of their wicked ways. Liberalism is, at heart, worship of self, which leads to death and destruction. It's a very sad thing to watch.

posumcop

The libs will always go back to their mantra when their way fails...."Trump's fault."

prodigalson

Indeed.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.