Editor’s Note: Van Jones is a CNN political contributor and founder of the Dream Corps. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
In California it’s become fashionable among liberals to say, “Even if you don’t like Gov. Gavin Newsom, the people behind the recall effort are worse – so vote ‘no.’”
I get it. But I really hate it when Democrats frame the recall effort that way, because I do like Newsom. More importantly, I respect him. A lot has been thrown at him – including unprecedented wildfires and a once-in-a-century pandemic. And, through it all, Newsom has brought heart, smarts, resilience and determination.
Yes, he has had some well-publicized missteps. But given the size and complexity of this state, and the magnitude of the crises that have occurred on his watch, it’s hard to imagine any other state leader doing much better. That’s why I am proud to be working as an unpaid volunteer to help him keep his job. We need him right where he is, getting better every day as the leader of our crisis-battered state.
It goes without saying that the people trying to push him out would be worse. Their efforts are actually a thinly disguised ruse to abuse the direct democratic process that Californians rightly cherish. Republicans, a minority in the Golden State, are attempting to steal power with a tiny minority of the vote – and install an extremist governor who is likely to disregard science and send us over a Covid cliff.
And if you’re wondering how that’s even possible, consider the rules of the recall election. If a majority of Californians vote to throw out the governor, then whichever challenger gets the most votes automatically replaces him – even if that person only gets a small percentage of the total votes.
This backdoor power grab is a bold move – and one that initially seemed unlikely to succeed. To collect enough signatures to trigger a recall election, the GOP had to rely on an extraordinary ruling by a single judge who gave them four extra months due to pandemic restrictions.
But what too few people are pointing out is this: It is not Newsom’s stumbles – but his achievements – that initially brought the wrath of the GOP down upon him.
The very recall petition itself critiques his progressive record, complaining, among other things, that “he has imposed sanctuary state status” and “he unilaterally over-ruled the will of the people regarding the death penalty.” (Newsom signed an executive order in 2019 placing a moratorium on the death penalty; legal challenges had already stalled executions in the state for more than a decade.)
Larry Elder, a Republican who is running against Newsom cited the governor’s decision to impose Covid-19 restrictions as one reason he should be recalled. But Newsom was acting well within his powers as governor – and introduced preventative measures to help stop the spread of Covid-19 during a deadly pandemic. Elder has also criticized Newsom’s progress on immigration by saying, “Gov. Newsom … has paved the way for illegal immigrants to receive stimulus payments, state-funded health-care services, and driver’s licenses, and he made our state a sanctuary for any illegal border-crosser – at the expense of all Californians.”
These types of grievances make clear that this recall, for Republicans, isn’t about Newsom’s “leadership failures.” They are upset about his leadership successes – in standing up for immigrants, marginalized communities and Californians at large. Their own words target Newsom for leading the nation when it comes to issues like criminal justice reform and public health.
And you can understand why they would be mad. Under the governor’s leadership, a majority of Californians have been vaccinated against Covid-19. Under the governor’s leadership, the state is expanding access to community clinics, launching a public education campaign and going door to door to get people vaccinated. In March, Newsom announced that California would set aside 40% of vaccine doses for areas that were hardest-hit, and, within a month, the state delivered four million doses to these communities.
He and his administration have fought day and night since Covid-19 hit to protect our families and communities. He has made the tough calls to keep us safe when little information about Covid-19 was available. He has owned up to his mistakes – and shown his humanity and his dedication to the state of California throughout the process.
Now he is focused on an economic recovery strategy (the California Comeback Plan) that will put money directly in the pockets of California families and small businesses. He is also making unprecedented investments in our children – including signing a new education spending package that will go towards providing universal pre-K for 4-year-olds and free school meals for all California kids.
He has moved to ban fracking by 2024 and authored a clean cars executive order. Newsom is also making historic investments to tackle our state’s most critical challenges – homelessness, education, infrastructure and wildfires.
And yet the polls are showing that if Californians do not return their ballots and this becomes a low-turnout election among Democrats, we will likely get a Trump-like governor who called global warming a “crock” and a “myth” and once said, “The ideal minimum wage is $0.00.” Voting rights, judicial appointments, climate change, criminal justice reform and our very children’s health – they are all on the ballot.
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Before September 14, I’m going to return my ballot with a big “NO” vote on Question 1. And I hope millions of other Californians do the same.
Yes, the people who want to replace Newsom would be worse. But it’s not just that many of his opponents are bad. It’s that Newsom himself is good. He is a determined leader who genuinely loves and wants to fight for the state of California. And I am not afraid to say so.