Shirley Weber has been thrust into the awkward position of administering the California recall that could oust the man who appointed her.
Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t the only person at the center of action surrounding the Sept. 14 recall election.
There’s also Secretary of State Shirley Weber — who has been thrust into the awkward position of administering an election that could oust from office the very man who appointed her to the role. Weber, a San Diego Democrat and former state lawmaker, faces a politically precarious task: defending California’s recall process — even if she thinks it has “some serious problems” — and encouraging residents to vote without giving the impression of supporting Newsom.
The trickiness of this balancing act was evident Tuesday, when the Associated Press reported that California election officials are spending $16 million on a voter education campaign intended to boost turnout — a move that will likely benefit Newsom, given the state’s nearly 2 to 1 ratio of registered Democrats to Republicans.
The campaign is officially nonpartisan, but the California Republican Party has accused the agency running the campaign — the Sax Agency of Los Angeles — of being pro-Democrat, citing its 2020 work with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and an Instagram post celebrating President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ win. (During the November 2020 election, then-Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office came under fire for awarding a $35 million voter education contract to a firm tied to Biden’s presidential campaign.)
Joe Kocurek, Weber’s press secretary, told me Tuesday that the two leaders of the voter education campaign are registered as Republican and no party preference. “We have that perspective intentionally,” he said, adding, “The fact is, we have a state full of voters of both parties. Elections are supposed to reflect the will of the people, and you don’t have that if people don’t turn out.”
Nevertheless, critics questioned the appropriateness of Weber and Attorney General Rob Bonta — another Newsom appointee, who’s publicly endorsed the governor — holding a press conference to remind Californians of their voting rights ahead of the recall. During the event, Weber emphasized that it’s “a sacred part of this democracy for every Californian to vote in this election and every election.” But she also appeared to stop mid-sentence when explaining the recall ballot, potentially to choose more neutral words to describe the second question.
- Weber: “It’s a ballot with two questions on it, really, do you or do you not want to recall the governor, simple yes or no. And the second question is if for some reason you want — he is recalled, who would you want as his replacement?”
However, Republicans praised Weber for adhering to the letter of the law and not granting Newsom’s appeal to list himself as a Democrat on the ballot despite his lawyers missing the filing deadline to do so. She’s also been the defendant in other high-profile lawsuits: one from recall frontrunner Larry Elder, who challenged tax return requirements (he won and got on the ballot); and one from three California voters who argued the recall was unconstitutional (they lost).
During election season, though, the line between state official and politician can get blurry. At an Oakland vaccine clinic on Tuesday, Newsom noted that 80% of eligible Californians have received at least one shot and encouraged hesitant residents to get vaccinated. But then he pivoted to campaign mode. “Simple request,” he said. “Vote no and go to the mailbox. Simple no vote. Don’t even turn the page and consider the other 46 questions that are being asked. Simple no vote and turn that ballot in.”
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Other stories you should know
1. Stimulus check omissions anger voters
Golden State stimulus checks of $600 or more started landing in Californians’ mailboxes on Friday — about two weeks before the Sept. 14 recall election. Newsom said the money, which will ultimately reach two out of every three residents, was intended to provide “direct relief for Californians hit hardest by the pandemic.” But potentially up to 2 million of the state’s most vulnerable residents — low-income retirees, veterans and disabled Californians who receive government benefits and don’t work — were excluded. And that omission, they told CalMatters’ Jackie Botts for the latest in the Building Bloc series on key voters, may have cost Newsom their support.
- Crystal Vazquez, 64, who lives in a trailer in Prunedale and receives disability benefits: “You just erased a whole section of society, and we feel pretty marginalized and erased already. And we vote.”
- Marcus Buchanan, a 41-year-old Iraq veteran who lives in Lake County: “If Newsom isn’t going to support my people, it makes it very hard for me to support him.”
Still, Newsom got some good news Tuesday when FiveThirtyEight, a national polling aggregation site, found that 51% of likely California voters would keep him in office, compared to 45.4% who would remove him. The dramatic change — a few weeks ago, barely more than a percentage point separated the two groups — appears to be due to SurveyUSA adjusting its methodology in its latest poll.
2. Shortages abound
What isn’t there a shortage of these days? Water, workers — everywhere you turn, California is scrambling to meet demand. Not only are there not enough teachers, but there are also aren’t enough substitute teachers, CalMatters’ Joe Hong reports — hobbling schools’ ability to staff classrooms for students learning in person and instruct kids learning from home in mandatory quarantine. For example, 13 of Nevada Union High School’s 86 teachers were absent on Monday — and there weren’t enough substitutes to fill the gap.
- Kelly Rhoden, the school’s principal: “I don’t know if another pay raise would work, to be honest. I just don’t think there’s enough teachers out there.”
California’s nurse shortage has also caught the attention of state lawmakers, who cited a report from CalMatters’ Kristen Hwang in a Monday letter asking the state’s top health official to waive hospital staff ratios that limit the amount of patients assigned to a nurse at a time.
One thing there isn’t a shortage of, however: natural disasters. Newsom said Monday that the Caldor Fire descending on South Lake Tahoe is the state’s “number one priority,” and told reporters that he plans to visit the region today.
3. Money, sports collide in California
There’s a lot of money in sports — and starting today, college student athletes can profit from their name, image and likeness, thanks to a bill Newsom signed late Monday that moved up the original January 2023 implementation date. Meanwhile, California’s November 2022 ballot could contain not one, not two, but three ballot measures related to sports betting — one that would legalize online sports betting and divide the profits between homelessness and mental health efforts and Native American tribes, another that would legalize in-person sports betting only at tribal casinos and race tracks, and another that would also permit non-tribal card rooms to offer in-person sports betting.
Let the games begin.
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CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As he battles to avoid being recalled, Newsom faces another issue: whether to grant parole for Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Robert Kennedy.
Californians deserve the truth: Newsom misled Californians about the state’s progress on wildfire prevention — and then Democrats canceled the only scheduled hearing that would have exposed the state’s mismanagement, writes state Sen. Scott Wilk, a Santa Clarita Republican.
Reforming the recall: It’s time for the state Supreme Court to conclude, in the case of a gubernatorial recall, that a replacement election is both unnecessary and inappropriate, argue Michael Salerno of the University of California Hastings College of the Law and Mark Paul, California’s former deputy treasurer.
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Other things worth your time
Ed Asner defended Gavin Newsom, his ex-nephew, before death. // Mercury News
COVID shutdown lawsuits cost California more than $4 million for settlements. // San Francisco Chronicle
A local solution for gun violence? Pay people $300 a month. // The San Francisco Examiner
California Attorney General drops bribery charges against fundraiser in Santa Clara County concealed-gun permit scandal. // Mercury News
California lawmakers vote to limit secret settlements. // San Diego Union-Tribune
How much legal cannabis is in California? It’s a state secret. // Forbes
California community colleges report COVID-19 enrollment aid scams. // Los Angeles Times
Years later, California voters still wait on water projects. // Associated Press
Feds close trails near mysterious Mariposa County family death for ‘unknown hazards.’ // San Francisco Chronicle
Rare California red fox population listed as endangered in ongoing extinction crisis. // Sacramento Bee
Feral pigs appear to be running amok in this East Bay city. // San Francisco Chronicle
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