With the California governor’s recall election in just a week’s time, the most populous U.S. state is on the verge of potential political upheaval.
But just a 45-minute drive south of the governor’s office in Sacramento, at a quiet cafe in downtown Stockton, Mike Sicari and Esther Taylor had gathered around a game of chess and had tried not to do more. think about politics.
“I just don’t want to get involved in this. I’ve had enough on my plate as it is, ”said Sicari, 26, who has no intention of voting. Taylor, 24, is considering voting – “Unfortunately,” she laughed.
Like many other residents of the Central Valley of California, both believed that Governor Gavin Newsom, and just about every other politician in the state capital, had abandoned towns like theirs – which after years of underinvestment, had suffered the brunt of the pandemic. But the prospect of choosing between Newsom and 46 replacement candidates they barely knew seemed “exhausting,” Taylor said.
“It’s like going to a restaurant and being asked, ‘What shit do you want today? ”, Added Sicari.
Communities up and down California’s sprawling agricultural heartland have historically served as a conservative counterweight to the state’s urban and liberal coast. And although an increasingly diverse electorate has in recent years a democratic lean, the region remains a Pollock political painting – an array of anti-splash ideologies.
The recall effort was triggered here, led by a retired Sheriff’s Sergeant from Yolo County, just north of Stockton. And its outcome could ultimately be decided here: by the fervent group that wants to impeach the governor and by the dozens of resigned or apathetic voters who might not participate in the election.
“What are they doing to help us? “
No matter who they planned to vote for, many voters in Central Valley towns such as Stockton, Lodi, Clovis and Fresno seemed to agree that the California political machine had largely forgotten about them as they were hit by the pandemic, its economic fallout, and its erosion of their daily life.
Sicari had worked as a funeral assistant last year, amid the worst coronavirus wave. Taylor worked as a key employee in a grocery store. The two supported the restrictions on coronaviruses and the masking requirements the governor defended. But overall, they said, they felt Newsom had done little for their communities.
As he finished snacking on tacos at a Stockton shopping center, Daron Maxie, 36, said he thought his vote “won’t matter.” All he has seen from elected leaders, including Newsom, who took office in 2018, is “broken promises and no progress,” he said. The governor, said Maxie, is “just one person on television.”
The recall process itself had baffled many. Darlín Meza, 21, was still trying to figure out how they would vote. At the Stockton County Registrar’s office, Meza accompanied a friend who wanted to verify his voter registration. “There are definitely things that frustrate me about the governor,” Meza said. “But beyond that, I still don’t know how to vote. “
Meza, a student, said there has been a lack of awareness among politicians and elected officials to voters like themselves, their friends and classmates about the recall process and how it works. Although they worked in a local community organization that is leading outreach efforts, they said, “I barely know what the recall is. “
“We love our city,” they added. “But a lot of politicians just see us as a place that is basically a ghetto and dangerous. But what are they doing to help us? What are they doing to improve education?
Newsom’s fate is in the hands of voters like Meza. While recent polls give the governor a slight advantage, they also show that progressive and democratic voters are less motivated to vote than conservatives who want to oust the governor. A recent CBS News poll found that 72% of Republican voters were “very motivated” to participate in the recall, while only 61% of Democrats felt the same.
And the state’s particular recall process has baffled many voters who are meeting it for the first time. The ballot poses two questions: first, should we recall the governor? And if so, who should replace it? If more than 50% vote yes to the first question, the majority candidate for question two becomes governor. This means that even if 49.9% of voters oppose the recall, it could be replaced by a candidate with significantly fewer votes.
With the absence of major Democrats on the ballot, some must have weighed their disappointment with the governor against the prospect of being succeeded by an unknown or untested challenger. Among Newsom’s dozens of opponents on the ballot are right-wing media figures and eccentric liberals or independents whose candidate statements read “Can you dig it?” Or “I love you”.
“My big problem is how the whole process works,” said John Fridrich, 65, a Stockton resident, undecided on the recall. “I’m not a fan of Gavin, but I’m not necessarily in favor of a guy like Larry Elder being governor. “
Elder, a right-wing radio host who raises the scum, is the Republican frontrunner in the race, leading the polls among replacement candidates with just 18% support.
Tim Otto, 71, owner of Mr Otto’s Books, a children’s bookstore along the Miracle Mile shopping district in Stockton, had previously voted by mail, against the recall largely for this reason. “Listen, personally Newsom is not my type of guy. He’s a little smart for my taste, ”he said. But he did a good job as governor, Otto added, or at the very least, he didn’t do anything impeccable.
Trying to recall Newsom just a year before he was re-elected, for no clear reason, “is just plain stupid and a waste of money,” he said.
“Will it be another Texas?” “
Fear of a right turn in California politics has shaken Lizeth Calderon, 23, of Merced. Calderon, who is undocumented, cannot vote. But with many Newsom opponents pledging to strike down immigrant rights, access to health care and environmental protection, they are calling on progressive advocacy organization PowerCA Action against the recall.
“I haven’t always felt listened to,” they said, and seeing political leaders reluctance to stand up for working-class Latin American families like theirs has been disheartening. But Newsom has at least paid attention to young activists, Calderon said, and has supported measures to expand access to health care for undocumented immigrants and to provide funds for undocumented workers. If one of his Republican challengers took office, it would amount to a disastrous “direct attack on progress”.
Frustrations over school closures and the chaotic process of reopening classrooms are another major factor in the race, among voters from both parties.
Maxie, who graduated from high school, said he was terrified of sending her back to class. Children are not good at wearing masks, he said – an issue that has deeply divided parents and teachers in the region. But at the same time, he saw how much his grades have increased since his return. “It’s just scary,” he said. ” It’s hard. “
California has kept classrooms closed to its 6 million public school students longer than other hard-hit states such as New York and Massachusetts, and the reopening process has been prolonged by bitter feuds between parents and teachers’ unions.
Lorena Trejo, 50, who voted against the recall, said prolonged school closures were difficult for her high school daughter – but she is happy the state has erred on the safety side. “Newsom has done its best to keep California safe,” she said.
During an after-school snack at Weberstown Shopping Center in Stockton with his Grade 10 student, Trejo said the pandemic has been and continues to be an unprecedented challenge for the governor. “I’m afraid that if he is recalled, whoever replaces him will turn the state into another Texas,” she said.
Meanwhile, supporters of the recall have said they are ready to move their families to Texas due to school closures. Charles and Denise Johnson, parents of a fifth-grader, second-grader and preschooler, said the past year juggling their jobs and childcare has been deeply frustrating. Their children had difficulty concentrating on online lessons and were falling behind. And while the public schools their two older children attend remained closed, they argued, the governor admitted to sending her four children back to private classrooms. “It’s insulting,” Denise Johnson said.
Les Johnsons, who live in Clovis, back Elder – who has vowed to repeal vaccine and mask requirements statewide if elected, and has made false claims that children would not benefit vaccines.
The same goes for Alex Reyna, 39, of Fresno, who was disheartened by the fact that even after schools reopened this year, children are routinely sent home to quarantine after being exposed to the virus, even s ‘they’re asymptomatic – leaving him and his wife to scramble for babysitting. Parents should have more power to decide whether their children should go to class, whether to wear masks or get vaccinated, he said. “I can’t take this any longer,” he said.