In summary

Today is the last chance for voters to return their ballots or head to the polls in the California recall that will decide Newsom’s fate.

Today is the day that could determine the rest of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s political career.

Election Day is the final opportunity for Californians to return their mail-in ballots or head to the polls — determining whether Newsom gets to finish the last year of his first term, or whether he will become only the second governor in state history to be successfully recalled.

A lot is riding on this moment — so much so that President Joe Biden held a campaign rally with Newsom in Long Beach on Monday night, hours after the two men met in Sacramento to tour damage wreaked by the Caldor Fire. Biden, the cleanup hitter in a long list of Democratic stars who came to Newsom’s aid, warned that electing a Republican governor would cause the state to backslide in its battle against COVID-19 and called frontrunner Larry Elder a “clone of Donald Trump” — drumbeats Newsom himself has invoked repeatedly in the final days of the campaign.

  • Biden: “California, the eyes of the nation are on you. … The rest of America is counting on you, and so am I.”

We’ll know more about that strategy’s effectiveness when the polls close tonight at 8 p.m., though it could take elections officials a few days to determine the results. Meanwhile, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall examines three ways the race could turn out — and what each possibility could mean for Newsom.

  • Newsom wins by a landslide. An overwhelming victory could catapult the governor into an enviable position for the 2022 election, demonstrating both to Republicans and challengers within the Democratic Party that voters want Newsom to keep doing what he’s doing.
  • Newsom squeaks out a win. Democratic political consultant Steve Maviglio put it best: “If he limps out of this, there will be some blood in the water. Another Democrat will think they could do better and they can take him on” in 2022.
  • Newsom is ejected from office. That would be a huge win for the California Republican Party — and would likely spur the Democrat-dominated Legislature to double down on reforming the state’s recall process.

A Newsom loss could also signal that Democrats weren’t successful in courting Latinos or young voters — despite efforts like the Secretary of State’s partnership with Snapchat to today offer a photo lens linking young Californians to information about the election.

  • Newsom strategist Sean Clegg, speaking to reporters ahead of the Biden rally: “There’s no scenario where we lose.”

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Sunday, California had 4,360,955 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 66,716 deaths (+0.02% from previous day), according to state data.

California has administered 47,966,973 vaccine doses, and 68.1% 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. Fires bookend Biden’s visit to California

Gov. Gavin Newsom listens as President Joe Biden speaks about recent wildfires, at Sacramento Mather Airport, Sept. 13, 2021, near Sacramento. Photo by Evan Vucci, AP Photo
Gov. Gavin Newsom listens as President Joe Biden speaks about recent wildfires at Sacramento Mather Airport on Sept. 13, 2021. Photo by Evan Vucci, AP Photo

Hours before Biden’s Monday visit to California — which was part of his first trip West as president and followed a stop at the National Interagency Fire Center in Idaho — the president approved Newsom’s request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration to help the state recover from the Caldor Fire. But even as the two men emphasized their commitment to fighting climate change — with Biden working to drum up support for a $3.5 trillion infrastructure plan — newly ignited fires were forcing evacuations and threatening structures in Northern California. Among them: the Hopkins Fire in Mendocino County, the Windy Fire in Sequoia National Forest and the KNP Complex Fire in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. The latter blaze was getting dangerously close on Monday to the famed Giant Forest, home to magnificent giant sequoias — including General Sherman, believed to be the largest living thing on Earth by volume.

Also Monday, a federal judge spent nearly two hours grilling a PG&E employee about whether the utility could have shut off electricity earlier to a power line suspected of sparking the massive Dixie Fire. Meanwhile, the Utility Reform Network filed a legal challenge to state regulators’ approval of PG&E’s proposal to issue a ratepayer-backed bond to cover the cost of its wildfire debt.

2. California’s workforce at a breaking point

Andrew McDowell, a small business owner of With Love Market & Cafe, rearranges the pastry case in his Los Angeles restaurant, on August 4, 2021. According to McDowell, it has been a difficult task to keep his business in full operation due to the pandemic and a lack of financial assistance from the government. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters
Andrew McDowell, the owner of With Love Market & Cafe, rearranges the pastry case in his Los Angeles restaurant, on Aug. 4, 2021. Photo by Pablo Unzueta for CalMatters

California’s workers are not all right. Waves of Bay Area restaurants and pop-ups are temporarily closing to give exhausted employees a much-needed mental health break — that is, if either the restaurant or its workers can afford to take time off. Pandemic-induced burnout has exacerbated California’s already chronic nursing shortage. And even as some workers call for enhanced safety measures, increasingly strict vaccination mandates are pushing some Californians to threaten to quit their jobs — further straining the state’s workforce at a time when almost every profession is frantically trying to plug staffing shortages.

Meanwhile, resistance to vaccination as a condition of employment is growing. A group of Los Angeles police officers on Saturday filed a federal lawsuit against the city for mandating vaccines for public employees. Thousands of San Diego County health care workers are requesting vaccine exemptions, and 65% of San Diego police officers who responded to a recent union survey said they would consider quitting if the city were to mandate inoculation.

3. California reflects on colonial past

Squaw Valley ski resort is changing its name to Palisades Tahoe after a year-long renaming process. Photo by Eric Gunderson via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Squaw Valley ski resort is changing its name to Palisades Tahoe. Photo by Eric Gunderson via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As California reckons with its past treatment of Native Americans, questions about how to handle the complex legacies and connotations of historical figures, statues and names have once more come to the fore. On Monday, the famed Squaw Valley ski resort in north Lake Tahoe announced that it will now be called Palisades Tahoe — the result of a yearlong renaming process to remove the word “squaw,” a derogatory word for a Native American woman.

Meanwhile, in a Sunday commentary in the Wall Street Journal, the Catholic archbishops of San Francisco and Los Angeles urged Newsom not to sign a bill recently passed by state lawmakers that would replace a statue of St. Junípero Serra at the state Capitol with a monument to Sacramento-area Native American tribes. The archbishops acknowledged that Serra, who established California’s mission system to convert indigenous people to Catholicism, was a “complex character,” but accused lawmakers of “slandering his name and pushing a false narrative about the mission period in California.” Instead of scrapping one statue for another, they wrote, California should keep its monument to Serra while also building one to honor Native Americans.

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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The California Legislature has finally closed a loophole that protected bad cops from losing their licenses.

Vaccine passports are not a license to discriminate: State lawmakers should allow Californians previously infected with COVID-19 to qualify for a passport regardless of vaccination status, argue Dr. Noah Kojima of UCLA Health and Dr. Jeffrey Klausner of USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

How California can support the future of fashion: Newsom should sign a bill that would pay garment workers minimum wage instead of pennies per garment sewn, writes Susie Buell, co-founder of global lifestyle company Esprit de Corps.

Other things worth your time

How the French Laundry embodies California: climate change, inequality and a recall vote. // Washington Post

Disabled Californians struggle to evacuate from raging wildfires. // New York Times

Health care unions defending Newsom from recall will want single-payer payback. // California Healthline

Harvard endowment linked to contentious battle over California olive oil labeling. // Harvard Crimson

How Amazon would be affected by California’s warehouse quotas bill. // Wall Street Journal

Many California schools get a failing grade on teaching reading, report finds. // EdSource

California farmworkers to get new masks under bill on Newsom’s desk. Do they want them? // Sacramento Bee

California cities’ ability to stop new housing projects limited by state appeals court. // San Francisco Chronicle

Thousands of UC students struggle to find housing. // EdSource

High demand for COVID tests coupled with short supply creates challenges across Kern County. //

Floral shop in ruins, robbed and torched after nearly a century in San Francisco. // San Francisco Chronicle

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...