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Op-Ed

Elder: Californians Should Have Booted Newsom, But 1 Thing Kept Him in Office

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I arrived early for dinner with a friend at a restaurant in Westside Los Angeles. At the table to my right sat two women. We started talking.

They had known each other since second grade, and one was celebrating her 85th birthday. One was a psychotherapist, the other a “human rights activist.” Both were Jewish. A few minutes into the conversation, one said, “Wait. I know who you are. You ran for governor.” After I confirmed her suspicion, she said, “Guess who I voted for.” I smiled. “You didn’t vote for me.” “How do you know?” she asked.

I said, “Let’s see. We’re at a restaurant in West LA. You’re Jewish and a psychotherapist. Your friend is a human rights activist. Read the clues. You’re both Democrats and no one could pay you to vote for a Republican.”

They acknowledged that they had voted against the recall of California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

I asked, “How do you feel about rising violent crime?” They both called the increase “outrageous” and even criticized the soft-on-crime Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, currently facing his second recall attempt. A vote among his assistant district attorneys found that 98 percent of them wanted Gascon to resign.

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“How do you feel about our homelessness problem?” I asked. The human rights activist responded, “If we provide housing and treatment — and there’s plenty of money for both — then I don’t understand why people are allowed to remain on the streets.” I said, “That was exactly my position during the campaign.”

“What about the quality of California’s K-12 government schools?” I continued. “Pre-pandemic, nearly 70 percent of black third-graders could not read at state proficiency levels, with math scores not much better. Almost half of all third-graders cannot read at state proficiency levels, with math scores about the same. Are you OK with that?” They both called it a “travesty.”

We turned to the governor’s draconian coronavirus lockdowns of businesses and in-person education. They said they had been “double-vaxxed with a booster.” “So have I,” I said. “We’re in high-risk categories. But I don’t think the state should’ve been shut down when the risk for young and healthy people is low. Do you?” They agreed with me.

“So,” I said, “you agree with me on virtually every issue, yet you voted to retain Newsom.”

Before they could answer, I said, “I’ll tell you why. You just could not bring yourself to pull that lever for a Republican!” They laughed and said, “I guess you’re right.”

In fact, a recent University of California, Berkeley, poll found that Californians rate Newsom underwater on nine of 10 issues, including crime, education, jobs, homelessness, budget, drought, wildfires, the economy and health care. His disapproval rating on homelessness was six times higher than his approval rating. The only positive issue for Newsom was climate change, in which he stood one point above water.

Overall, Newsom has a 48 percent job approval rating. It is tempting to suggest that were a vote held today, Newsom would lose. But during the recall, his approval rating was only two points higher, and he survived with 62 percent of the vote.

The overwhelmingly Democratic and Democrat-leaning independent voters in California, like my restaurant companions, just could not bring themselves to vote for a Republican — especially one who voted for former President Donald Trump.

At his victory speech the night he survived the recall, Newsom said, “I said this many, many times on the campaign trail: We may have defeated Trump, but Trumpism is not dead in this country.” Trumpism?

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As for the ladies in the restaurant, we soon started completing each other’s sentences. “What are you drinking?” they asked. They ended up buying me two drinks, and even paid for my lobster dinner.

Trumpism rested. For at least one evening.

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