California Governor Gavin Newsom has had a rough year. Although praised at the start of the pandemic for ordering the first statewide lockdown in the U.S., it’s all been downhill since then.
Wildfires, electricity shortages, and a billion-dollar scandal involving inmates receiving unemployment checks would have been enough to drive his approval through the floor. But now, he’s dealing with the fallout from a resurgent coronavirus that has him locking down most of the state again and urging residents to wear a mask while eschewing social gatherings.
Too bad he didn’t take his own advice. Newsom was caught having a maskless dinner out with his rich friends at the French Laundry in Napa Valley. With millions in economic distress, the least that could be said of the event was that it was “bad optics.”
The scandal spurred a recall effort that organizers say is gaining steam after the French Laundry affair. They say they have about half the 1.5 million signatures needed to get the issue on the ballot.
Newsom isn’t standing still and waiting for the recall truck to hit him. He’s making some moves to shore up his staff, stocking his office with political vets who have been through the wars.
Newsom appears to be getting on campaign footing. He has hired veteran Capitol insider Jim DeBoo as a senior adviser, which could help him repair frayed relationships with legislators and bring sharper political instincts to his office. Newsom also just named Dee Dee Myers, a former Warner Bros. executive and White House press secretary for President Bill Clinton, as director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.
While many Californians would dearly love to see Newsom tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail, many more would hesitate. In the midst of a pandemic, a massive vaccination effort to inoculate 40 million people, and a huge economic downturn, many Californians who otherwise might be inclined to throw the bum out realize that changing horses at this stage could be dangerous.
But the recall will definitely be a distraction. And it may come at a time when Newsom is required to name not one U.S. senator to replace Kamala Harris after she’s sworn in, but two. The state’s senior senator, Diane Feinstein, is suffering the normal effects of aging and may decide to retire. The 88-year old Feinstein was being pushed out the door anyway because the liberal/progressive Democratic Party has become the party of kooks and crazies — California politics on steroids. She just doesn’t fit in anymore.
Apparently, because she didn’t do a good job sabotaging the Amy Coney Barrett nomination to the Supreme Court, the radicals were enraged — so much so that they forced her into the humiliating position of having to give up her seat as ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee. And there have been whispers from her staff and some in the media that she’s suffering from “cognitive decline.”
Feinstein’s term ends in 2024 but Harris was up for re-election in 2022. Newsom could name a placeholder to fill out Harris’s term and then let the free-for-all for the seat begin in 2022. If Feinstein also bows out, he would want someone who could be in it for the long haul.
And the Senate isn’t the only personnel decision Newsom is going to have to make:
He’ll also name a new state attorney general if Xavier Becerra wins Senate confirmation as President-elect Joe Biden’s health and human services secretary.
Thirdly, if he elevates California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to the Senate as Harris’ successor, as widely expected, he’ll appoint someone to fill out Padilla’s term.
Newsom has publicly commiserated with himself about dealing with all of the ambitious politicians seeking promotions into high office.
California politics has always been entertainment more than substance. For Newsom, however, reality bites.