By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is about as liberal as they come. But in the fight for his political life, the leftist Democrat isn’t above drawing on the strategies that helped conservative Scott Walker become the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall.
Newsom has less than two weeks to convince California voters he should keep his job, as he faces a recall election built on political discontent.
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Newsom’s campaign has adopted an “identical strategy” to Walker’s 2012 defense. Wisconsin’s former Republican governor beat back a recall effort led and financed by the public sector unions whose power he reined in through collective-bargaining reform legislation.
“We made it about union bosses,” Walker told the Times, “and eventually [Milwaukee Mayor Tom] Barrett,” the Democrat who lost to Walker in Wisconsin’s recall election.
Newsom, a Big Labor stooge, is instead focusing on “Republicans,” the word that triggers the left nearly as much as the name Trump.
The newspaper notes Newsom’s official campaign committee is named “Stop the Republican Recall.” The word “Republican” appears more than 10 times in his official voter guide submission, His television ads make a point of referring to former President Trump.
“In a state where there are nearly 5 million more registered Democrats than Republicans, Newsom’s team hopes running against the GOP is enough to save him from suffering the same fate as Gray Davis, California’s Democratic governor who was ousted in 2003, 11 months after he was elected to a second term,” the Times asserts.
Newsom’s brain trust insist California’s latest attempt to drive out a governor is similar to Wisconsin’s recall election nearly a decade ago. It may be in branding strategies, but the circumstances definitely are different.
Wisconsin public sector unions, smarting over the passage of Walker’s Act 10, which curtailed their outsized power against taxpayers in contract negotiations, launched the recall campaign. They got a lot of money and resources from the national Big Labor movement, which saw Wisconsin as a line in the sand. While nearly 1 million voters signed the recall petition, Walker ultimately beat Barrett by 5 percentage points. He won because conservatives rewarded Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and the Republican Legislature for their courage in standing up against the liberal/Big Labor onslaught, and because Independents and some Democrats who may not have voted for Walker in 2010 didn’t believe policy differences constituted removing a governor in the middle of his term.
Newsom faces a wave of Californian discontent over his rigid COVID-19 restrictions, the state’s failure in combatting crime and homelessness, and some damaging scandals.
Walker’s campaign pointed to the big unions and their bosses demanding more and more from cash-strapped local governments and the taxpayers who funded them.
Labor leaders were “the ones that exerted undue influence, getting governors and legislatures to approve contracts and benefits that were out of line with the private sector and ability of state and local governments to pay,” Keith Gilkes, Walker’s campaign manager at the time, told the L.A. Times. “They were the villains in this.”
Newsom’s campaign is targeting his main opponent in the multi-candidate California recall, conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who has said he will do away with vaccine and mask mandates. Newsom’s camp is doing what Democrats do best, particularly during the pandemic: pumping up the fear.
“It’s a matter of life and death,” one recent Newsom ad warned. “Stop the spread…. Protect California by voting no on the Republican recall.”
Walker, the newspaper notes, capitalized on the attention the recall movement attracted from a state and national media that hungrily reported on what it spun as the many injustices done to teachers and government workers. Out-of state money poured in for the proxy war for labor rights.
“Every time one of these national unions came in, one of these national [Democratic] surrogates came in, it helped make our point that a whole bunch of people outside the state wanted this to happen,” Walker said.
Newsom, too, has attracted big money in his recall effort — much of it from Hollywood, the entertainment trade in general and big tech. Consider it payback. Newsom in July signed a bill that generously expands California’s film and TV tax credit.
CalMatters reports that opponents of the recall have raised eight times more money than supporters — $64.5 million to $8.1.
Money matters. A new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shows 58% of voters do not support the recall.
Walker told the Times that Newsom will need to do more than simply survive the recall. His ability to effectively govern is on the line.
“Most people nationally are shocked that he’s even got a race,” Walker said. “He’s got to win by a whole lot for it to be a net positive.”
Walker would very much like to remain the only governor to survive a recall after California’s votes are tallied on Sept. 14. Still, the former governor tells the newspaper he’s not a fan of recalls, in any state.
“Recalls should be for what other states might use impeachment for — malfeasance in office, or a crime committed,” Walker said.