California Governor Gavin Newsom Makes Covid-19 Missteps As He Faces Recall, New Republican Challenger

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Tom Tapp
·4 min read
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California Governor Gavin Newsom was half an hour late to his own party on Monday. Scheduled to speak at a Covid-19 news conference at 11:30 am, he didn’t appear until noon. That’s unlike the governor, but this is an unusual time for him.

Newsom is the target of a statewide recall effort, and activists working to put his removal to a vote say that they have garnered 1.3 million of the estimated 1.5 million signatures needed. TV ads targeting Newsom are set to hit this week.

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Also on Monday, a new Republican challenger, businessman John Cox, who Newsom beat handily in the last election, declared his intention to challenge the governor in the proposed recall election if it qualifies for the ballot, or says he will run against Newsom if he seeks a second term in 2022. Cox again threw his hat into the ring on Monday with an ad painting himself as an outsider.

“I’m a businessman, not a politician,” he says in the ad. “It’s time for a fresh start.”

Cox joins fellow Republican and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer in the race.

Hiccups in state handling of the Covid-19 response, like a massive data backlog, have hurt Newsom. Likewise his own bad judgment in joining a crowd of friends and lobbyists at The French Laundry shortly before he ordered Covid restrictions for restaurants in the state.

And there is also the ongoing cascade of unemployment fraud revelations in the state. As federal money flooded in to help those impacted by the pandemic last fall, about $1 billion was sent to prisoners who fraudulently qualified for assistance. And it wasn’t just prisoners taking advantage of the chaos.

A Jan. 28 state audit estimated the amount of EDD fraud committed in California between March and December 2020 might top $10.4 billion.

More recently, hiccups with vaccine distribution — which Newsom insists are not the state’s fault — have upset many voters. Add to that the governor’s confusing priorities for who should get the vaccine, and there is a growing sense that the recall effort is gaining traction.

Last week, a new poll indicated that only 46% of the state’s voters approve of the governor’s job performance, according to Politico. The same, Berkeley Institute of Public Studies poll found that two-thirds of voters approved of Newsom’s actions in September.

On Monday, the governor announced the state had recorded just over 10,000 new cases in the past 24 hours. “One month ago,” observed Newsom, “we had over 50,000 cases.” He also reported the state now had a 5% test positivity rate. That’s down from 14% in just two weeks. ICU beds occupied by Covid-19 patients were down 25% in the same period.

“Everything that should be up is up, everything that should be down is down,” said Newsom. Well, not quite.

“On vaccines,” admitted the governor, “we can’t move fast enough.” He said the state would receive 1.2 million doses this week, but only 540,000 of those were designated for first doses. “We need to see more doses coming into the state to keep these sites up and running,” he said.

What’s more, when asked about protection for teachers as schools get closer to opening, the governor said, “We are prioritizing our teachers.”

But there has been continuing confusion over who’s eligible and what phase of the governor’s vaccine rollout counties are in. Some of that has been because the plan itself has changed. Some of it has been because of the language it uses — “tiers” is also an important term deployed in the governor’s reopening plan. Some of it has been because, as Newsom says, he has allowed local health officers “latitude” in determining who gets the vaccine, so the qualified population shifts from county to county.

Right now, California is in Phase 1A of vaccine distribution, which covers health care workers as well as workers and residents at skilled nursing facilities and other long-term homes. Some counties are moving into Phase 1B, Tier 1, which includes people 65 and older, workers in education — like teachers — and childcare, emergency services workers, food and agriculture workers — like farm workers and grocery workers.

Los Angeles health officials said on Monday that vaccinations for teachers, law enforcement and food workers was still “a couple of weeks” away.

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