Gavin Newsom Plots Recall Strategy

[Author’s note: Gavin Newsom’s gross inconsistency in dealing with sports and the performing arts requires criticism from both right and  left. The meeting described below may never have occurred, but millions of parents and their kids were really ticked off by the governor’s very appropriate year-long ban on sports, cheerleading and the performing arts. Was it coincidental that as their protests mounted and the reality of a possible loss in a recall election increased, the governor issued a series of announcements and clarifications as February ended that put ball teams back on the field and cheerleaders up in the air, but still left the singers and actors gagged? Whether the meeting occurred or not, the governor got the point, and this may be how he got it.]

California’s embattled governor Gavin Newsom unsuspectingly revealed his fear of losing his upcoming recall election during a secret meeting at the governor’s mansion in Sacramento on Friday, February 26. An open mic and video from a security camera reveal a worried governor plotting strategy to win over some of the millions of angry voters who have suffered through his almost daily TV Covid briefings and his irritatingly on-again, off-again state lockdown orders. The tapes were allegedly presented to his Republican opposition by an apparently snubbed female aide.

At that clandestine meeting, Newsom and several aides detailed plans to gain enough support to defeat the recall. His principal Republican opponent is expected to be Clint Eastwood, who, at 90, may not be the charismatic candidate that Arnold Schwarzenegger was when he ousted a Democratic governor in a 2003 recall. But Newsom’s fellow plotters weren’t taking Eastwood for granted.

“This won’t be as big a fight as the press is making out,” Gavin told his aides as the meeting began. “I won by 3 million votes, and Biden beat Trump by 5 million. That meant there are enough Republicans to get enough signatures on petitions for a recall, but not enough to beat me.”

An uneasy aide offered a different assessment. “You’ve alienated all those Republicans, but you’ve also turned off millions of Democrats with your lock down programs and your school closures. Those aren’t just Trumpites demonstrating at street corners, churches and schools. Those are a lot of our fellow Democrats, outraged by your mask requirements, social distancing and your ban on indoor dining, all restricting personal choice. We don’t have a poll, but I’ll bet you’ve lost a couple of million of our people. That could beat you.”

“Here’s what you need to do,” said a second aide, spreading out several different sheets with numbers written on them.

“First, you really turned off all those parents whose kids played school sports. The football crowd, and the soccer Moms, particularly. Kids haven’t played in over a year – any sport. The kids are mad, their folks are mad … and they signed those recall petitions.

“Look at the numbers! We’ve got 4,000 high schools in California. Each one has at least four major sports for boys and 3 for girls. That’s at least 160 kids, plus ten minor sports with another 140, a total of 300 athletes you’ve benched this year at each school. Multiply that by 4,000 schools is over a million kids you’ve grossly offended in a single year. Each kid has two voting parents… and you’ve already lost 2 million votes in the recall.”

The governor was silent.

“But that’s not all,” said another aide, with reluctance in her voice. “You also turned off all the girl cheerleaders when you banned cheerleading on the sidelines at games. Let’s say at leas 50 girls at each high school were miffed by your decision.  Fifty times 4,000, doubled and you just lost another 400,000 votes”

The governor remained silent, his cheeks turning somewhat ashen.

“It doesn’t stop there, governor.” Another aide offered still more damaging numbers.

“The performing arts students are just as mad at you. They just aren’t as vocal as the sports nuts. If you total up all the musicians in bands and orchestras, the choir kids, drama, dance and debaters that you’ve muzzled for over a year, your chances look pretty hopeless. I estimate you’ve turned off a hundred kids in the marching band, forty in the orchestra. Add to that 40 actors and stage crew, 50 in choir, 50 in dance, and a debate squad of 20 … all times 4,000 … and you’ve got a disaster. You just lost 300 more at each school, times 4,000 and doubled with two parents.  That’s another 1,200,000 votes for Eastwood.

“Your 3 million vote margin of victory in 2018 is gone and you’re a million votes behind Eastwood.”

“But,” the governor responded, “performing arts parents are more liberal than the Football Dads and Soccer Moms. They’ll still vote NO.”

“Not if you discriminate against them this way,” said the aide.

The stunned governor sat down, asked for a beer, then asked: “So what do I do?”

In early March, a string of announcements flowed from the governor’s office at the capitol. First, all contact sports were now exempt from his virus regulations. Athletes could return to the field. Next, all indoor sports were exempt as long as kids wore masks while on the bench. Third, cheerleaders could return to the field under an obscure rule that recognized cheerleading as a “competitive sport.” The performing arts, however, remained muzzled as a sop to public health officials who thought the governor had gone to far with his concessions.

A poll the next week showed the recall movement had lost steam. Eastwood would lose by three million votes. Meanwhile, infectious disease experts at the Center for Disease Control have detected a dramatic rise in teenage Covid cases among youth sports participants.

Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona.
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