Is California Gov. Gavin Newsom an out-of-touch elite? Why recall supporters can't stand him
Tyrant. Idiot. Ass. Jerk.
Those are just some of the words recall proponents used to describe California's 40th governor.
They are people like Glenda Roybal, who lives in Santa Clarita, but traveled all the way to Sacramento on Sunday for a rally organized by groups who want to get rid of Gavin Newsom.
Sitting in a folding chair across the street from the Capitol, she listed the reasons she doesn't like Newsom. They include his dinner at the swanky French Laundry restaurant and his decision to send his kids to in-person private school while her grandchildren struggle with remote learning.
"It's time to get rid of this narcissist tyrant," Roybal said. "He's an idiot."
The picture Roybal paints of Newsom — as an elitist who doesn't follow his own policies the way regular Californians are supposed to — is echoed by other recall supporters.
In multiple interviews, they described a Democratic governor who destroyed livelihoods with his COVID-19 lockdown policies. They see him as someone in it for himself, someone who doesn't care about ordinary people like them.
Over and over again, they mention the fact that he once attended the kind of group gathering he had urged others to avoid. The fact that the event was at the fancy French Laundry is particularly irritating.
Few are sympathetic to his side of the story.
He argued in his State of the State address this week that California has come through the worst of the pandemic with a relatively low per-capita death rate, that the state dramatically increased its testing and hospital capacity, and that California now outranks some larger countries, including France and Germany, with its vaccination rates.
Media has helped shape their image of Newsom as an out-of-touch elite. One San Diego weatherman, for example, dressed up as "King Newsom" and mocked the governor's rules intended to keep people from spreading the coronavirus at Thanksgiving celebrations.
It's a caricature Newsom may have a tough time trying to shake, pollster Mark DiCamillo said.
The most recent polls measuring Newsom's approval ratings, including the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll DiCamillo runs, show a decline in support for Newsom after a dramatic high early in the pandemic.
"He's seen as higher up in the social strata than other Californians," DiCamillo said. "That could be a longer-term issue for him even if he improves his job rating."
Pollsters say voters' views of politicians are more often shaped by partisan preferences and their own sense of well-being.
The last time voters soured so much on Newsom was in fall 2019, when a series of wildfires blanketed the state in smoke, according to polls conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Newsom's fortunes are now tied to the pandemic, especially after he set himself up as the face of California's coronavirus response with his daily COVID-19 news conferences, DiCamillo said.
Latest polling: 46% approve, 48% disapprove
In its latest polling on Newsom, the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found 46% of Californians approve of the job he's doing, while 48% disapprove. Meanwhile, 44% have an overall favorable view of him, while 49% have an unfavorable view.
Modesto resident Lynelle Hains, a retired lab scientist, said she gets most of her information about the recall and what Newsom has done from recall groups she follows on Facebook. She contributed $100 to the recall effort last year.
"He makes these ridiculous rules up and doesn't follow them himself," she said when reached by phone last week.
Judith Whiting, a retired Santa Barbara resident whom records show gave $500 to the effort, said Newsom is behaving hypocritically.
"His stance on everybody else has to stay in but he can go out is ridiculous," she said. "I feel that he is absolutely an ass."
Attendees at the recall rally in Sacramento listed many reasons they want to remove Newsom from office, including some based on inaccurate claims that he cheated to win the election and that masks he purchased from China never arrived. (There is no evidence Newsom broke any election laws in 2018, and masks purchased through a much-criticized $1 billion deal with Chinese company BYD have indeed arrived, albeit later than promised.) But they also listed many grievances based in fact, including his extensive use of executive orders during the pandemic.
Shellie Balsz, who works as an educator for young children in Ventura County, said she disliked Newsom's policies and what he stood for even before he was elected governor.
"Gavin Newsom is mismanaging our state," she said. "I have friends who have lost their businesses."
Unhappiness predates pandemic
Although the pandemic has fanned the flames of the recall effort, many recall supporters like Balsz disliked Newsom before COVID-19.
Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, said that reality is reflected in the polls, which have found many people who are very dissatisfied with Newsom now were also dissatisfied with him before he took office.
"If I look at who are the people who are unhappy with Newsom today, they were unhappy when he was elected as governor," Baldassare said. "They base their opinions about performance based on their preconceptions of their leader."
In its latest survey, taken in January around the same time as the UC Berkeley poll, the Public Policy Institute of California found 52% of likely California voters approve of Newsom's job performance.
Partisanship is the biggest driver of Newsom's approval ratings, Baldassare said. Seventy-one percent of Democrats said they approved of Newsom's job performance, while just 16% of Republicans and 46% of independents did.
Recall supporters insist their message is resonating with Democrats, and have pointed to some individual cases of liberals who want Newsom removed from office. But most recall supporters are Republicans.
Baldassare sees the recent dip in Newsom's approval ratings as a return to a more normal range from a temporary high early in the pandemic, as opposed to a sign Democrats are losing confidence in the governor.
"It takes a lot to move approval ratings out of the ranges where they are because of the hyper-partisanship of voters today," Baldassare said. "Voters tend to side with their party."
Democrats close ranks around governor
Democratic politicians, meanwhile, are rallying around the governor. He's often flanked at press conferences by local officials who sing his praises. On Monday, far-left darling Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders blamed Republicans for the recall effort.
"Right-wing Republicans in CA are trying to recall @GavinNewsom for the crime of telling people to wear masks and for listening to scientists during COVID," he tweeted.
"Extremist Republicans have done enough to undermine democracy already. We must all unite to oppose the recall in California."
But West Sacramento resident Jeanie Kayl isn't listening to politicians like Sanders.
Reached by phone last week, Kayl said she has been so disappointed by politics that she doesn't even watch the news anymore. She said she used to be a devoted viewer of One America News Network because the network supported former President Donald Trump, and lost many friends because they didn't share the same political views.
Now, she says the political direction of the country has made watching the network distasteful to her.
"I invested so much of my time and effort and emotional stability. I was on One America News 24/7... For what? For absolutely nothing," she said. "I got hooked in, and I finally spit the hook out and I'm done."
But she says her interest was piqued when her mechanic told her about the Newsom recall effort.
To Kayl, Newsom is "just a big jerk."
"We're the little people, they're the big people... the rules don't apply to him," she said. "He just seems like he's drunk with power."
Although she's so disappointed with politics that she doesn't plan to vote anymore, Kayl said she jumped at the idea of removing the Democratic governor from office.
"We signed up right away," she said. "If I can participate in getting some idiot out of office... then sign me up."