S1: I live in New York, and back in the spring, I can still remember seeing these headlines, comparing my home state with California, like there was this one, April 8th, the Mercury News, how California contain the coronavirus and New York has not. Or May 16th, ProPublica, two coasts, one virus. How New York suffered nearly 10 times as many deaths as California. To be honest, I saw these news reports and I was jealous because California, the first state to issue a stay at home order, seemed to have figured something out all while I sat in my apartment listening to the continuous whine of sirens. But at some point after I stopped paying attention, Angela Hart says things changed.
S2: I think the turning point, if I had to pinpoint the first turning point, it would be our summer reopening.
S1: Angela covers health policy for California Healthline. Over the summer, she noticed politics had started sneaking into decisions that had been based on science.
S2: If you ask state lawmakers, if you ask public health experts, if you ask the county public health officials who are leading the response in California on the ground, I think you’ll hear a wholehearted agreement on that. California open to fast. And since then, I think we’ve seen a series of really big missteps really on the part of the governor over the course of the last year, Governor Gavin Newsom made himself into the face of California’s pandemic response.
S3: Good afternoon, everybody. Wanted to update you on where we are in terms of California’s covid-19 response.
S2: Today, we are announcing and introducing a regional stay at home order in the state of California.
S3: I know some people think that’s too much, too fast, too soon. Others think, frankly, that didn’t go far enough.
S4: But he held more than 100 press conferences. But that meant when things started to go wrong, his constituents knew exactly who they wanted to blame.
S2: I mean, it’s really they are so, so paying attention to everything that this governor is saying, I mean, he’s, you know, several times a week sometimes is telling people on his Facebook that, you know, California’s got control of this. We’re going to lead. And so people are holding him to his word and people feel misled.
S1: And in this state, if enough people think of governor isn’t doing his job, they can kick him out with a recall election. When did you start to think it’s not just that we’re it’s not just that so many people might be mad at Gavin Newsom, it’s that all this might get him kicked out of office.
S2: Yeah. You know, I’ve been seeing these recall signs all over the freeways and sort of Home Depot parking lot. You see these petition gathering going on and the signature gathering going on. So that’s just kind of out there. But then when you start talking to people, you sort of start to understand, oh, these aren’t your. These aren’t only Republicans. These are disaffected Democrats. These are no party preference voters. So you really can’t ignore the voice of all the different sides of the political spectrum. And you. I’m shocked. I am shocked. I am very shocked.
S4: Today on the show, the story of how California Governor Gavin Newsom went from leading on the coronavirus to defending his office. A Mary Harris you’re listening to, what next? Stick with us.
S1: Recalling a governor in California is simple in theory, but complicated in practice, you’ve got together a certain number of signatures from registered voters within a certain period of time. The number of signatures statewide have to equal 12 percent of the number of votes cast in the previous election for that office. In this case, we are talking more than a million people and then those signatures have to be verified by local elections officials. It’s hard enough to execute that for a little while. Angele and her editors, they weren’t even sure they should be covering the recall story. My understanding is that in California, there are lots of recall efforts. Actually, it’s just a very few of them succeeded.
S2: Yeah, that’s how the governor’s chief political spokesman put it. This is expected background noise. But the thing is, this isn’t the same. What we’re seeing out there is not the same as the past recall efforts. There has been six against Governor Newsom. This one is different. This one is gaining momentum from across the political spectrum. This one is being driven by Republicans. But if you look at the signatures, they’re sort of ticking up. And if you look at the even the the news that’s picking up at Democrats, it’s not only Republicans who are growing disillusioned with the governor and really specifically with his leadership.
S1: And now the California Democratic Party has begun to respond aggressively. A few weeks back, the state party chairman called the recall effort, the California coup, a comment that got a lot of pushback across the board.
S5: This recall effort, which really ought to be called the California coup, is led by is being led by right wing conspiracy theorists, white nationalist, anti vaccine.
S2: They try to paint this as a fringe right wing movement. But the thing is, it’s not anymore. I think that’s one thing that I’ve heard, and that is one reason I am really surprised. It was not difficult for me to go out and find Democrats who were saying that to me. I don’t want to vote for him anymore.
S1: I wonder if after that press conference, there was a feeling that the party leaders overreached by trying to compare what’s happening with Newsom to what happened at the Capitol. Like did people kind of come back to them and say, hey, look, but there are real problems here?
S2: You know, it was weird. I think the collective feeling was that was a weird press conference. The Democratic Party and the chair gave no evidence that this was tied in any way to the coup attempt. So that was weird. And I think you saw a wave of articles pointing that out and then you saw the Democratic Party sort of backtrack and say, you know, we should have done that, will be more careful next time, essentially apologizing. You know, I I sort of always trying to gut check myself about is, you know, this is still a long shot. How much chance does this have of making it? And I went out to a lot of my Democratic sources and, you know, former lawmakers who served a decade in the legislature, county and city, Democrats who I’ve known for forever, sources who I trust just to say, hey, am I am I in the wrong? Am I going the wrong direction here? You know, what I didn’t hear is as important as what I did here. I think I did not hear anybody with a full throttle defense of the governor and his leadership. I did not hear anybody say, you know, this is not a Governor Newsom problem. What I heard from those Democrats who said, whoa, whoa, whoa, was we don’t want a more political divisiveness right now. So it’s not a defense of the governor. And I didn’t also reach out to past governors. I reached out to former Governor Jerry Brown. I reached out to Schwarzenegger and I reached out to Gray Davis. And Gray Davis was recalled in 2003. Correct. The first governor in California, the second governor in the country to ever be recalled. And he was loathe to talk about his personal experience. But I did talk to many people in his circle and even him. And, you know, I think the thing that I’m hearing from from that camp is you really can’t afford to not take this recall effort seriously. You have to listen to the townies who are struggling. You have to listen to voters who are confused, who are angry, who are frustrated.
S1: It is those counties that are having to roll out California’s coronavirus vaccination plan. There are fifty eight of them, each with its own approach. So while the state says anyone over 65, along with teachers and essential workers, can get the shot. It really depends where you live. Angela says it’s created a big, confusing mess.
S2: People can’t find very basic information here. People can’t find out where to get an appointment. They can’t figure out who to call. They can’t figure out. Where their place in line is and if you think about the Joyce Hamptons of the world, she was the person who I spotlight in my story. She’s the one who sort of got us into the story in the article. You know, she specifically said, you know, I understand, you know, the governor doesn’t control the supply of vaccine is coming to California. And I can handle waiting until March or April, if that’s how long it’s going to take for me to get vaccinated. She’s sixty nine. But the governor made it sound like she’s going to be able to get signed up and get vaccinated tomorrow. So she just said, you know, I can take it, I can take the truth, but just be honest with us and just be straightforward with us. And she feels whole heartedly misled by the governor.
S1: I mean, Gavin Newsom released a video saying 65 and older, you should be able to get the vaccine.
S2: Now, he was pretty careful if you look at it. That was the video that said you’re eligible. Now, there’s a difference between being eligible and then when you go to California’s 58 counties, each county has a different whole different strategy. Some people 65 and older can sign up in some counties, but in others they can’t.
S1: It seems to me like Governor Newsom has a couple of problems, which is he’s got this problem of optics and what it looks like he’s doing and maybe not doing. And then he’s got the problem of what is actually happening that is touching people. Because I remember back in, I think, November, it seemed like some anti Newsom sentiment picked up after he was caught going to this fancy dinner without a mask at a restaurant called French Laundry. Did you see that as a turning point to.
S2: Certainly that was a turning point.
S4: Can you tell the story of what happened?
S2: Governor Newsom was at the French Laundry, sort of hip, very upscale, trendy restaurant and wine country in California. He was with donors right here schmoozing with donors. What lobbyists who are who are, you know, taking a front seat to the vaccination and to the pandemic response in California. It just looked really bad on him and he was violating his own rules. He was you know, he was mass dining with a group of friends that were not from his household. And he defended himself at first, which we often see with the governor. And then a little while later, he apologized and I made a bad mistake.
S3: Instead of sitting down, I should have stood up and walked back on my car and drove back to my house.
S2: Voters are extremely upset about this. I’ve heard it everywhere, I’ve heard it from Republicans, I’ve heard it from independents, I’ve heard it from Democrats. I was at the Capitol a couple of weeks ago, the last weekend that former President Donald Trump was in office. And I was there to cover to see what kind of protests there might be. And I talked to a bunch of groups of people and I walked up to one to one gentleman. And you looked like he was upset. He was wearing a black t shirt with a with a silhouette of a of a gun on his shirt. And I said, oh, what brings you out today? And him and his wife just went off f knew some this you know, all this just a tirade. I didn’t even get a question. And I said, Really, why? And the wife just broke down. Their daughter is falling behind. She’s distance learning. She hasn’t been in school in over almost a year. And the they just described this really difficult situation there. And she’s she they described her. She used to be a straight-A student and now she’s a straight up student. And it was remarkable for a moment because you saw the sort of staunch Republican who has signed all six petitions to recall Governor Newsome. So he’s committed. He’s committed, but he shut his politics for a moment. He said, listen, and he looked at me dead in the eye and he said, Angela, this isn’t only about that. This is about making sure our kids are able to succeed in the classroom. And this is beyond politics. Our daughter doesn’t deserve this. And the woman just got really emotional and the wife and just kind of broke down crying. And she didn’t want her name in the in my article. But the husband’s name is James Birdsong. And then James brought it back to to the French Laundry incident. And he just sort of, you know, in a moment of frustration, he said, listen, if you’re going to quote if you’re going to impose a law on your citizens, you’ve got to abide by that law, period.
S1: There’s so much going on there because it really indicates just how emotional the electorate is and how they’re feeling disserved and a lot of different ways. And how a moment like going out to dinner, flouting your own rules can really energize people. You know, it seems like it’s just optics, but folks are so tender at this moment that those optics really matter.
S2: It’s optics, but I think it’s even deeper than that, it’s everybody has sacrificed so much, we’ve been, by and large, locked in our houses for the better part of a year and to see the governor sort of flippantly ignoring his own rules, hit a nerve and really just showed, oh, my God, we’re giving up all this stuff and you’re not even following your own rules. And that same tone at the tone I’m hearing with this vaccination rollout.
S1: When we come back, Governor Newsom is trying to fix his vaccine rollout failure, but even those fixes are making constituents mad. Angela says the questions over Gavin Newsom performance as governor go deeper than disorganization, they’re about money to twice during this pandemic, Governor Newsom has had to come up with a state budget. His latest one. Angela says, doesn’t have any additional funding for county health departments, even though they’re the ones tasked with carrying out much of the state’s pandemic response.
S2: Essentially, there is no new direct public health money for counties in the budget, even though the pandemic is raging. Correct. And counties have their hands up. I mean, they are begging for anything. And the governor has said essentially no. I have asked them specifically. I’ve asked him pointedly, is public health not a big enough priority? Why why do counties not get any more public health money? And meanwhile, you have continued to ladle increasing amounts of responsibility on them. Contact tracing, testing, enforcement of the rules now vaccination. I’m going to tell you about Dr. Huang Lou, who is the health officer for Yuba and Sutter Counties. This is rural Northern California. This is a county that is struggling to make ends meet in terms of its pandemic response. It is completely rounding and responsibility from Lou. The health officer in Yuba, Sutter County has 50 people to do all those big tests and she is about to lay off 20 of them this month. Oh, my gosh. So it just shows that an underfunded and overworked local health department that’s been given all this responsibility is really caught in this really, really treacherous vaccination rollout in California. And there this is not only true for them.
S1: You find these stories all across California, all across the 58 counties in the coming weeks, county health departments are going to have some of the pressure taken off. Last week, Governor Newsom announced rather suddenly that insurer Blue Shield was going to take over California’s vaccine rollout.
S2: But that, too, is causing people to just throw their arms up and people are really upset. There’s been a really robust social media conversation and a woman named Nancy said it is his fault. The Governor Newsom had no plan to distribute the vaccine. He did have a plan. It was just not carried out efficiently. And he dumped it on the county, she said, and walked away. And now you and I are going to play Blue Shield millions of dollars to do it, even though they had no expertise in this area, total abdication of leadership.
S1: So even the fix has people angry.
S2: People are so angry, people are angry. Why can’t California do this? What changed? And we haven’t heard any answers to that. We don’t know how much this contract is with the state. We haven’t been able to get answers. We don’t know we don’t know some of the mechanics about how it’s going to work. Really important details. You know, it puts a large part of the distribution responsibility in the hands of a health insurer or a private health insurer when the response really needs to be driven by a public health perspective. And so that’s causing a lot of concern. It’s causing some early backlash as well. It’s really a difficult position this governor finds himself in.
S1: So the organizers of this recall effort, they need to gather a lot of signatures in a very short period of time. But when I looked at the timetable here, I was mostly struck by how fast this could all potentially move. Can you lay that out a little bit?
S2: Yes. They still have a long ways to go. They’ve got still about half of their signatures to collect. This is a this is largely at this point, a volunteer driven effort. It’s not really that organized. It’s kind of a mess the way that the campaign looks on the ground. They they are actually proud of that. They like that it’s being this sort of driven by this grassroots energy and they need to gather signatures by March. The deadline is March 17th, and then the secretary of state’s office will count them all. So they need almost one point five million valid signatures. We shall see what they actually turn in and how many are valid. That is something that we’re going to be watching very closely. However, I think these things can really take on a life of their own. All it really takes is one big check. If you look back historically, when Gray Davis was recalled in 2003, you saw, know, two million dollar check from a congressman named Darrell Issa come in. And that turned this longshot campaign into, oh, man, we have to take this seriously.
S1: Now, is there anyone out there who looks like they might have money to spend?
S2: On this and want to tip the scales, lots of people out there have lots of deep pockets. There’s lots of people out there with deep pockets. The question is right, and that’s what I mean by this spin can take on a political life of its own once somehow, once all of the momentum of the momentum keeps building and building and building you, it’s entirely plausible that you reach the sort of breaking point politically. And and then all it takes is one Democrat, one Republican, one. It doesn’t matter what their political stripe is to say we have a shot or our party has a shot.
S1: What do you think the saga of Gavin Newsom says to other governors who are struggling to control the coronavirus? Because I look at a look at Governor Newsom, I can’t help but compare him to Governor Cuomo here in New York, because a lot of people have been doing that back and forth. These are two really big states that have been hard hit at different times by covid. So I’m curious how you see it from over there in terms of what this means for other governors looking around thinking, how do I keep my job?
S2: I think there’s a big lesson here. I think the lesson is to be straightforward level with the public. The governor here in California has made very explicit and lofty promises going back to October 19th, vowing that California would lead an equitable and smooth vaccine distribution strategy and said, quote, There’s light at the end of the tunnel or a few months away from truly seeing real progress with the vaccine. December 7th, hope is on the horizon. Let me just contrast that with the message we heard from President Biden after he took office. Quote, The brutal truth is it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated. Months.
S1: You sound frustrated with him, too.
S2: I would just say that if I say I’m frustrated because I’m reflecting the total insanity out there on the ground and I’m reflecting, I think, the frustration that I’ve heard from many of the people I’ve spoken to in the course of reporting, the governor has outlined a very different reality than people are experiencing on the ground. He’s sending a message of hope. And we’ve got this and stick with us. California is the leader. California is at the bottom of states nationally in terms of the vaccine is administered compared to the vaccine that has received. California is not leading this. California’s failing compared to the rhetoric that this governor had in the beginning. And so if there’s a lesson, I think, for other governors and this is supposed to be one of the main lessons from the pandemic one hundred years ago, be straightforward with people.
S6: Angela Hart, thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for having me. Angela Hart is a correspondent for California Healthline, and that is the show What Next is produced by Davis Land, Mary Wilson, Danielle Hewitt and Ilana Schwartz. We are led by Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. I’m Mary Harris. You can find me over on Twitter. I’m at Mary’s Desk. Thanks for listening. I will catch you back here tomorrow.