In summary

As the recall election approaches, competition between — and media coverage of — Gov. Gavin Newsom and Larry Elder is heating up.

If you want to receive a mail-in ballot for the Sept. 14 recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom, today is the deadline to register to vote — any later and you’ll have to request a ballot in person.

More than 3.5 million Californians have already returned their ballots, representing 16% of ballots mailed to the state’s 22.2 million registered voters, according to figures compiled by Political Data Inc. These early voters are disproportionately Democratic (54%), white (69%) and age 65 or older (42%). That tracks with trends observed during the November 2020 election, in which Democrats rushed to vote early while Republicans — often citing concerns about fraud — waited to cast their ballots in person on Election Day.

A federal judge on Friday affirmed the election is happening by rejecting a last-minute lawsuit that challenged the recall as unconstitutional. With about two weeks until Election Day, Gov. Gavin Newsom and his top challengers are ramping up efforts to reach undecided voters. One key bloc: Californians between the ages of 18 and 29, who are the least likely of any age group to register or vote but who could nevertheless prove decisive in the election’s outcome, CalMatters’ Matthew Reagan reports.

Newsom and recall candidates spent the weekend reaching out to constituents. The governor, whose planned Friday rally with Vice President Kamala Harris was canceled amid the turmoil in Afghanistan, instead helped clean up a San Francisco homeless encampment. Meanwhile, his main GOP rivals swept across Southern California, with reality star Caitlyn Jenner holding a town hall in Pasadena; former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer talking to voters in Santa Clarita; Assemblymember Kevin Kiley campaigning in San Diego, San Clemente and Stanton; and talk show host Larry Elder hosting a rally in Ramona.

The recall also gained national steam over the weekend. Back-to-back profiles of Newsom ran in the Atlantic and the Economist on Friday and Saturday, while both the New York Times and the New Yorker ran Sunday columns denouncing the recall as an assault on democracy.

The articles posit that Newsom’s biggest threat is Elder, who’s received no shortage of media attention himself: On Thursday, a Politico investigation into his new campaign manager; on Friday, a Los Angeles Times investigation into his inactive private charity; and on Sunday, a Los Angeles Times profile. Also Sunday, the Orange County Register ran an op-ed attacking the Times’ “racist smear campaign” against Elder, citing two recent columns titled “If Larry Elder is elected, life will get harder for Black and Latino Californians” and “Larry Elder is the Black face of white supremacy. You’ve been warned.”

Meanwhile, Los Angeles prosecutors on Friday declined to pursue a criminal complaint filed by Elder’s ex-fiancée, Alexandra Datig, who alleged he brandished a gun at her and pushed her six years ago.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Saturday, California had 4,198,089 confirmed cases (+0.3% from previous day) and 65,243 deaths (+0.2% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 46,730,884 vaccine doses, and 66.3% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.

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1. The perks and pitfalls of the governorship

Image via iStock

As the recall ramps up, a California parole board panel on Friday put Newsom in a pickle by recommending parole for Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted in 1968 for the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Though the decision is far from final — the parole board’s lawyers have up to 120 days to review it before passing it on the governor, who has 30 days to uphold it, reverse it or send it back to the board — pressure is already increasing on Newsom to overturn it. Six of Kennedy’s nine surviving children called on Newsom to keep Sirhan behind bars, while high-profile crime victim advocate Marc Klaas challenged Newsom to tell voters before Election Day what he plans to do.

The fraught situation illuminates one of the governor’s little-known executive powers: to grant pardons and commutations for convicted criminals and to review parole decisions. But in many other arenas, the governor’s power is curtailed by the state Legislature — raising questions about how much a Republican governor would realistically be able to accomplish if the recall succeeds, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. More than a dozen Democratic strategists told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joe Garofoli that Faulconer, a moderate Republican who often touts his ability to work with Democrats, is the least bad replacement option. But some experts suggested that attempts to work across the aisle would be met with hostility in a legislature where both houses have a supermajority of Democrats.

2. Understanding COVID’s spread in CA

Two students wearing face masks at All Saints' Day School work independently as one student studies behind a plexiglass screen in Carmel on Dec. 10, 2020. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian
Two students wearing face masks at All Saints’ Day School work independently in Carmel on Dec. 10, 2020. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian

Two reports released Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention underscored the importance of masking, physical distancing and COVID-19 testing in California schools — especially when it comes to protecting kids who are too young to be vaccinated. One report found that students who attended Los Angeles County schools in person from September to March tested positive for COVID-19 at dramatically lower rates than children in the county overall, suggesting the schools’ strict safety protocols helped reduce transmission. The other report — which made quite a few headlines — found that an infected, unvaccinated Marin County elementary school teacher in May spread COVID-19 to 26 students and their contacts after lowering her mask to read aloud. All of the 18 samples that were genetically sequenced involved the delta variant.

  • Tracy Lam-Hine, a Marin County epidemiologist: “The mask was off only momentarily, not an entire day or hours. We want to make the point that this is not the teacher’s fault — everyone lets their guard down — but the thing is delta takes advantage of slippage from any kind of protective measures.”

The studies come amid a swirl of concerning statistics: California on Saturday had 1,601 ICU beds available, less than the 1,700 open when Newsom in December announced a regional stay-at-home order tied to ICU capacity. Cases are skyrocketing among the unvaccinated in rural Northern California, prompting Del Norte and Trinity counties — which have one and zero ICU beds available, respectively — to reinstate indoor mask mandates. So many COVID and non-COVID patients are seeking care at San Diego hospitals that facilities are postponing surgeries due to a lack of space and a burned-out workforce. Meanwhile, wait times for COVID test results are increasing statewide, hampering officials’ ability to track the spread of the virus.

3. Remembering Californians lost in Afghanistan

Kabul International Airport. Photo by Christophe Cerisier via iStock

California played a role in the lives of many of the 13 U.S. service members killed last week in suicide bomb attacks at Kabul International Airport as they worked to evacuate Americans and their allies from Afghanistan. Four were Marine Corps members from California: Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23, of Sacramento; Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio; Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga; and Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, 20, of Norco, the Department of Defense said Saturday. Another Marine Corps member, Staff Sgt. Darin Hoover, 31, was from Salt Lake City but had been living in Orange County, according to the Los Angeles Times. Ten of the service members had been based at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California.

A photo Gee posted four days before her death went viral over the weekend. It depicts her holding an Afghan child in Kabul and is captioned “I love my job.”

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Legal sports betting is coming to California — but dueling ballot measures will determine who profits from the potentially huge amounts of money involved.

California can’t afford to lose good-paying jobs: State lawmakers are considering a bill that could harm warehouse employers by nudging business owners out of state, argues Robert Gutierrez of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

How work can threaten well-being: The use of automation technologies to track and monitor safety or productivity is seeping into grocery stores, retail settings, and even knowledge work, writes Rachel Maguire of Institute for the Future.

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Other things worth your time

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See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven wrote the daily WhatMatters newsletter for three years at CalMatters . Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco...