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Gavin Newsom Will Remain Governor Of California After $300 Million Recall Effort


California voters have said a resounding no to recalling Governor Gavin Newsom. He will now finish out his four-year term, which ends in January 2023. Those pushing for the recall had criticized the Democratic governor for how he's been handling the pandemic, but in the end, California's success in containing COVID-19 helped save Newsom's job. Joining us now to talk about the recall election results is Scott Shafer from member station KQED in San Francisco. Hey, Scott.


CHANG: So now that the election is over, how would you characterize the message that voters overall sent?

SHAFER: Well, this recall was rejected by a nearly 2 to 1 margin, more than 60% no vote. And No. 1, I'd say it's clearly a solid endorsement of Newsom's approach managing the pandemic. And it's also, at the same time, a rejection of what his opponents, especially replacement candidates like Larry Elder, were offering in place of what Newsom was doing.

Last night, Newsom also emphasized what voters were saying yes to. He mentioned, in particular, the progressive policies around voting, immigration and the pandemic that California has enacted over the last few years. And what this is not, Ailsa, is an endorsement of how the state is handling issues like homelessness. As you know, in Los Angeles, it remains a huge problem for the state. And Newsom is likely to continue addressing that in the coming months as he looks toward his second term.

CHANG: OK. Well, among the counties that voted against the recall - although, again, there are still ballots left to be counted - but among those that did reject the recall are San Diego County and Orange County. And both of them used to be reliably Republican, right? So...


CHANG: ...What do you think that says about the changing political landscape here in California?

SHAFER: Yeah. Remember, former Republican Governor Pete Wilson was first mayor of San Diego in the '70s. Today, San Diego is - it's reliably Democratic in local and especially in statewide elections. This week, San Diego County rejected the recall with about a 60% no vote. That's really a remarkable transition.

And regarding Orange County just to the north, Ronald Reagan used to say that O.C. was the place good Republicans went to die. Back in 2003, the O.C. voted overwhelmingly for the recall of Gray Davis. Today, Orange County is more closely divided on the recall and politically in general. But, you know, still a pretty dramatic shift from the recent past. And the reason is simple - demographics; fewer white people, more Latinos and Asians, and they tend to vote more Democratic, especially younger voters.

CHANG: All right. Well, let's talk about costs. Because taxpayers were the ones who footed the bill for this recall election, which cost something like $300 million. What would you say voters got for all of that money?

SHAFER: Yeah. Well, that certainly could have been used for other things, like getting homeless people off the streets and helping to fight and prevent wildfires. That said, this is happening at a time when California has a huge budget surplus - $80 billion thanks to money from the federal government and taxes here on the wealthy. You know, and Newsom also raised another $70 million from private donors. So, you know, I think a lot of people would say spending all that money and time was just really a big distraction.

CHANG: OK. Well, looking ahead to 2022 real quick, what lessons might there be for Democrats and Republicans in the upcoming midterm elections you think?

SHAFER: Yeah. Well, for one thing, the importance of political infrastructure the Democrats put into place to defeat this - getting out the vote, communicating with voters and so on - that'll come in handy in the 2022 midterms. Another thing is the strategic importance of direct voter contact, like, you know, knocking on doors. That didn't happen in 2020 due to the pandemic. And then finally, this is just a sound rejection by California voters of Donald Trump and candidates like Larry Elder who support him.

CHANG: That is KQED's Scott Shafer. Thank you, Scott.

SHAFER: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOOPS SONG, "SUN'S OUT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Shafer