The California recall was worth every penny
It’s hard to think of a better deal in our high-cost state than the failed recall election against Gov. Gavin Newsom. At an estimated cost of $ 276 million, or less than $ 7 per Californian, our state has carried out a months-long democratic exercise that has inspired dramatic new public investments, improved governor’s performance, and may even save lives.
Infuriatingly, many Californians who claim to be defenders of democracy persist in calling this democratic triumph a waste of expensive money. (Some of these thoughtless critics even have the nerve to call themselves Democrats.) If they don’t want to sound like hypocrites, they should stop complaining, reconsider the math of this election, and think more deeply about the cost of democracy. .
Let’s start with the number: $ 276 million is almost nothing in the size of a California state. This figure represents less than 1% of the current budget surplus, and about a tenth of 1 percent of the overall state budget. To put it in another context, the election cost the Los Angeles Dodgers $ 100 million less baseball pay their right fielder.
Media commentators have spent the past two weeks falsely claiming that the recall took $ 300 million from schools, health care or the homeless. The truth is exactly the opposite. The recall helped boost funding for these core government services to historic highs, in part because of the election pressure put on our state’s ruling Democrats as they negotiated a budget this summer.
And let me speak frankly: if the lawmakers and the governor had had an extra $ 300 million, it is entirely possible that they would have spent it as a gift to their own political supporters. In fact, that’s precisely what happened in July, when some of the same Democratic politicians questioning the cost of the recall spent $ 330 million to double the size of an unnecessary and ineffective tax credit for the wealthy Hollywood producers.
Those same politicians could have reduced the cost of the recall by $ 60 million had they not insisted on extending the election date to September 14 to give Newsom a political edge.
But let’s not be too upset with that bit of hypocrisy, because even with the extra cost, the recall was worth it.
Spending more on elections has never made more sense than it does today. California’s electoral system is in the midst of a historic transition to make voting easier. New practices, such as opening polling centers weeks before elections and sending everyone a postal ballot, have so far been successful, with rate of participation. But this progress is fragile due to a growing wave of disinformation attacking elections and democracy. The people who run our elections, county officials and volunteers, are faced with harassment and threats because they do their job honestly.
Spending more on elections has never made more sense than it does today.
More than 80% of the $ 276 million in the cost of the recall goes to those same county election officials, who, by organizing the recall election, strengthen the new electoral infrastructure, find new ways to bring in voters, and take decisions. measures to protect themselves. and their elections against threats. The rest of the money (over $ 30 million) is used by the state to do things like print and distribute voter guides in the various languages that Californians speak.
Think of the cost of the recall as the money spent on infrastructure, democratic infrastructure. And instead of complaining, think about how much more we could invest. If we are serious about saving democracy, we should create funding so that every California municipality has a strong office to support public participation and civic engagement, as cities overseas often do. We should also increase and stabilize election funding, hire more public workers to help hard-to-reach people participate and vote, and provide more public funding for campaigns, with an emphasis on supporting an organization. more information and a debate on voting measures.
More people paying more attention to democracy can help reshape history.
Just watch the dramatic transformation of our struggling governor who was not focused until it became clear that the recall would qualify. Then Newsom made staff changes in his team and put an end to his bad habit of creating task forces, commissions or task forces to solve sensitive issues rather than managing them himself. (The nadir of the Newsomian delegation was a “task force” to study… pause to breathe… oxygen at the end of 2020, instead of just sending more to hospitals.)
In the face of the recall, Newsom began to take big, direct action and never stopped. After keeping children out of classrooms for too long, he lobbied to force schools to reopen. It replaced a stingy supply of loans to troubled businesses with a system of generous grants. He threw away the confusing COVID-19 color level system and reopened the state in June.
If that sounds like cheerleaders, well, Newsom saved that as well, overturning a ban that initially kept cheerleaders out after high school sports reopened.
The hip-hip cheers didn’t end there. Newsom overturned and acted aggressively to close the homeless settlements. And its booster year budget made too many historic investments – from health coverage to college affordability – to list them here. To pick just one: After 25 years of promises and failure by California politicians to deliver a universal preschool, Newsom’s recall budget plan actually calls for a full year of transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds. years.
When you understand this background, Newsom’s landslide victory doesn’t mean the election was pointless. On the contrary, his victory shows the value of the recall. The election confirmed the governor’s big, hard-hitting acts of governance and set the stage for more aggressive action, particularly around the pandemic. Newsom has presented the election in part as a choice to push for more vaccinations, which means this recall will almost certainly save lives.
Now we Californians just need to keep Newsom – who is prone to distractions and whimsical flights – disciplined, vulnerable, and nervous. He has been more effective in 2021 as his public persona becomes increasingly salty, angry and hurt.
And if Newsom gets complacent after being re-elected next year, maybe a civic-minded Californian can qualify another recall to improve the governor’s focus and give us another opportunity to spend $ 300 million on our democracy.