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Rick -> Rick's Election Analyses -> Sep. 14, 2021

Tuesday, 2021-09-14 gubernatorial recall election

Notes by Rick Moen
(Last updated 2021-10-22)

This election rundown will cover 2021's attempt to recall and replace California governor Gavin Newsom. Unlike with normal California elections, this one's ballot was uniform state-wide (except, places like Sonoma County and Town of Woodside that have added out-of-season local issues, and order of candidates is shuffled randomly within each of California's 80 Assembly districts, and each of our 58 counties designs its own ballot layout).

As always, definitive outcomes are not possible for several weeks, partly because some categories of ballots aren't counted until after Election Day (vote-by-mail/absentee including overseas and military / RAVbM, provisional, conditional-voter-registration provisional, and damaged).

As a reminder, in Nov. 2020, California counted only 2/3 of the eventual vote on Election Night, results not being definitive for several days, and 95% reporting requiring 11 days. This election's aftermath may be could have been somewhat similar (but turned out to be a sweep).

Also as always, this page includes separate "RM partisan analysis" sections for each issue/candidate, just in case you're curious what I personally think. No, I'm not lobbying to persuade, in part because that doesn't work.

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How to Check / Fix / Create Your Voter Registration

California's registration deadline is always 15 calendar days before each election; in this case, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. Some counties permit checking and correcting registration online, and California also has a statewide voter registration Web site. I would recommend checking your county information first. If you see signs of trouble or have doubts or find no information, contact your county registrar of voters immediately. Or, just visit that office in person, bringing state photo ID or passport.

After official registration deadline and through Election Day, you can still do new registration (or change existing registration personal details or address) "conditionally" aka Same Day Voter Registration and then vote, doing both at any Early Voting Location. (This is also how to vote if you turn age 18 after official registration deadline but before Election Day.) If your name isn't on the voter list for your precinct, you can still vote a "provisional ballot", which means your ballot will be counted after eligibility gets checked.

Candidate Information

I've had a small epiphany: It's 2021, and we have better ways of getting information than the (state) Official Voter Information Guide and (county) Sample Ballot & Official Voter Information Pamphlet.

As 2016 US Senate candidate Jason Hanania pointed out, the state charges candidates $25 per word to include a Candidate Statement (250 words max.) in the statewide Guide — thus over $6,000 for a full-paragraph statement, plus a low filing fee, thus difficulty staying under the Federal Elections Commission cap of $5,000 in campaign expenditures, exceeding which brings many expensive other requirements and a host of other ills.

All of that is unnecessary: It's 2021, we have the Web, and nobody need pay by the word. Therefore, for each candidate, I have hyperlinked the candidate Web site or best other Web resource. The Web can give you much deeper and better information than does the Official Voter Information Guide and County Pamphlet. Use it.


2021's recall effort was triggered by gathering voter signatures on petitions between June 10 and Nov. 17, 2020 (160 days). The campaign was then uniquely (unlike any other recall effort) granted (by Schwarzenegger-appointed Judge James R. Arguelles) on Nov. 16 an extra 120 days (to Mar. 17, 2021) to gather signatures, beyond the statutory 160 days, in recognition of difficulties caused by the pandemic.

1,495,709 valid signatures were required (12% of the 12,464,235 votes cast in the last election for governor), where valid signatures were needed from at least five of California's 58 counties, and signatures in each of those counties equaling at least 1% of the last vote for governor. On July 1, 2021, Sec. of State Shirley N. Weber certified this as having been done (1,719,900 valid signatures submitted, after a mere 43 signatories requested removal of their signatures, and about 400,000 signatures were disqualified as invalid), and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis signed a decree calling an election for Sept. 14, 2021.

A state Voter Information Guide was sent to printers on Aug. 6, and mailed to households by Aug. 24. A vote-by-mail ballot and information packet were mailed to every active registered voter by Aug. 16. Voter change of address or regular new-registration forms must have been postmarked or delivered by Aug. 30. Changes or new registrations could, however, still be made through Election Day via Same Day Voter Registration voting. (See above.)

Any voters who'd lost or never received their ballots have had in California, since November 2020, a fallback option: the RemoteAccessible Vote by Mail (RAVbM) ballot, which you print out at home and then vote. RAVbM was created in 2017 specifically for active military and overseas voters, but starting 2020 can be used by any California voter. If you opt for such a ballot, you attest online that you're registered and provide your driver's license / state ID information, the last four digits of your SSN, your date of birth, and your California voter-registration address to authenticate your identity. You will then receive voting instructions (Alameda County example here), follow those instructions to fill out RAVbM paperwork, and fax or paper-mail it back by 8pm Pacific Time on Election Day. Election workers will transfer your selections to an official ballot. Both documents are then stored together for a post-election audit.

When you self-authenticate to choose RAVbM balloting, your existing official ballot will be voided in the county's election system, so that it cannot also be voted.

Claims (without evidence) by conservative news outlet Washington Examiner and candidate Larry Elder that RAVbM voting has "security issues" lack any factual basis: RAVbM is just another way to have and cast one single, official paper ballot, helping people with disabilities, particularly those with vision and dexterity issues, to vote privately without needing others to assist them, and also benefits military and overseas voters. It raises no extra security concerns, and does not constitute voting over the Internet. The Washington Examiner story, sourced from Franklin News Foundation's "The Center Square" conservative Web site, gets added to the big pile of misinformation and disinformation about recall electoral procedures.

Write-in candidates could file required Statement of Write-In Candidacy by Aug. 31. Secretary of State Weber published1 the list of certified write-in candidates on Sept. 3. (Any write-in vote for a non-certified candidate or for Gavin Newsom was invalid, and was discarded uncounted.)

Election Day was Sept. 14, from 7am to 8pm. Properly postmarked ballots were counted if received by Sept. 21. Counties must return official results to the Secretary of State by Oct. 15, who must then publish the official Statement of the Vote by Oct. 22. In the event of recall passing, the Secretary of State would have certified the results then, on the 38th day after the election (Oct. 22). The new governor would have taken the oath of office, and served through January 2, 2023.

Some of the security measures (1, 2, 3, 4) to ensure integrity of California voting systems: independent certification testing of security, auditable paper trail permitting check and recount of any ballot, public viewability of all election processes, a watermark on the ballot unique to the election, a barcode on the security envelope matched to the specific voter, checking each ballot against the state voting database to prevent duplicate voting, regular purging of the voter rolls of deceased voters, signature verification, and voter ballot-tracking.

After voting, you could track your ballot's status at WheresMyBallot (an outsourced service of i3logix, Inc. d/b/a BallotTrax, hired by CA's Secretary of State). Progress of all ballots could be followed on PDI's vote-tracker.

California Recall History

In 1911, legendary Progressive Era Gov. Hiram Johnson (R) sought to end Southern Pacific Railroad's use of money to control state government (1, 2), by pressing through the Legislature key direct-democracy reforms, to give voters ultimate control: a railroad commission, California's now-famous initiative & referendum process, election of US Senators by direct popular vote, cross-filing (abolished 1959), and greater & easier power to recall state/local officials than anywhere else.

Eventually, 19 other states permitted recall of governors, but California remains an outlier in many ways: Unlike most other states, ours permits recall for any reason. (Most require alleging criminal acts, malfeasance in office, etc.) All but other (VA) require a higher percent of signatures to qualify a recall, generally anywhere from 25% of prior turnout (AK, AZ, CO, MI, MN, NV, NJ, ND, WA, WI) to 33.3% (LA) and 40% (KS), wheras our state requires only a ridiculusly low 12%. Once a recall has been qualified, replacement candidates in California have an ultra-low bar to be listed on the recall ballot: 7,000 signatures, or (currently for the governor's office) a $4,194.94 filing fee, or a prorated mix of those. Aside from that, a replacement candidate need only never have been convicted of embezzlement, bribery, or perjury involving public funds and otherwise qualified for the office (1, 2, 3), including not having already served two terms after Nov. 1990 (ruling out Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Brown as write-in candidates). Also, the officer subject to the recall attempt may not succeed him/herself (ruling out Gavin Newsom as a write-in candidate). But otherwise, any old shmo can qualify as a replacement candidate on a recall ballot: Many do, and qualifying a recall is (too) easy.

As a result, California has seen 165 official recall attempts, 57 against governors. A governor has been successfully recalled once, Gov. Gray Davis (D) in 2003. One other US governor, elsewhere, has been successfully recalled: Gov. Lynn J. Frazier (R) of North Dakota in 1921. The only other gubernatorial recall in US history was the 2012 one against Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin, which he defeated. But the record of attempts in California dwarfs those elsewhere, and every California governor in recent memory has been the object of numerous official recall attempts.

This Recall in Context

Reasons for the recall effort: Recall supporters allege Newsom mishandled the coronavirus pandemic, did not do enough to address the state's homelessness rate, suspended executions, and supported sanctuary city policies & water rationing — along with quite a grab-bag of culture-wars symbolic issues. However, the inciting incident that drove this recall effort was Newsom's spectacularly ill-considered attendance at a luxurious private birthday party with friends at Yountville, Napa Valley's celebrated French Laundry restaurant on Nov. 6, 2020, the height of the pandemic lockdown.

For his part, Newsom says "This is a ragtag crew of pro-Trump, anti-vaccine extremists, along with some ambitious Republican politicians who would like to be governor", which is on balance a pretty accurate characterization of the lead proponents — but on the other hand fails to account for those 1.7 million signatures.

This special election will cost counties and the state about $276 million (1, 2) in public funds (and rising) — just 14 months before the regular 2022 gubernatorial election. Any replacement governor would have served 15 1/2 months, which may seem short, especially with the Legislature as a check, but California's strong governor model gives a governor great power at a crucial time over matters like COVID-19 policy and appointing replacement office-holders, such as if, say, 88-year-old US Senator Dianne Feinstein suddenly leaves office. (The governor's appoints for heads of state agencies and members of regulatory boards can, in most cases, be vetoed by the Legislature not confirming them, but a governor's power to fill vacant Congressional seats is exempt from that check.) So, even with a short term, this replacement attempt needed to be taken very seriously.

And, to be blunt, Hiram Johnson's intent was effectively perverted, as recall was caused to function as a means for a minority political party to sidestep the voters' choice at the preceding regular election, hoping to rely on low turnout and special recall rules that include absence of California's regular "top two" primary. I'll have more to say in my "RM partisan comments" sections.

Briefly: CA's GOP has not been able to win a single statewide office since 2006 (moderate Gov. Schwarzenegger's re-election and moderate Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner's election), and hasn't defeated a sitting Democratic governor in a regular election since 1966: The GOP "brand" has become so toxic to state voters that the party will soon rank third behind no-party-at-all (NPP). Of California's 22,154,304 registered voters, as of Feb. 10, 2021:

Point is, CA GOP has been shut out of statewide office for almost two decades by its own massive unpopularity, but hoped recall's special rules would permit it to place a wildly unpopular far-right extremist (Larry Elder) in the top job anyway, overturning the 2018 election. The recall sideshow now being over, California really needs to plug the hole Hiram Johnson and the Progressive Republicans of 1911 left in our constitution, e.g., upping the signature requirement from 12% to a normal 25%, requiring that removal be for good cause, and adding some form of runoff so, e.g., Larry Elder couldn't automatically prevail just because the vote is split finely among 46 nobodies, victory going to someone with a thin plurality replacing a governor vastly more popular than he is. Also, as Berkeley Law's executive director David A. Carillo pointed out, the Legislature could, without needing amend the state constitution, direct the Secretary of State to use the general election's procedures to qualify recall replacement candidates, rather than the primary election's procedures as has been done in this year's and the 2003 recalls. Making that latter change would increase qualifying signatures from 7,000 to 1% of registered state voters, equating at present to 209,215 signatures.

Polling (1, 2)

Anger at Gov. Newsom over the French Laundry scandal and lockdown problems peaked in Jan. 2021. One poll in February, commissioned by candidate Faulconer, showed a slim majority for recall. All other polls (through June) predicted this recall failing by an increasing margin, and, as of June, Las Vegas betting parlors were offering 1:10 odds. Then, in August, the race tightened again (especially in a now-questioned Aug. 4th SurveyUSA poll), becoming once more difficult to predict. As of Aug. 29, odds at NZ-based online predictions market PredictIt was running 1:4, and Betfair Exchange offered 1:3. As of Sept. 6, PredictIt was offering 1:5.5 odds, and Betfair Exchange was offering 1:14.

Sep. 13: SurveyMonkey/MomentiveAI poll showed, among likely voters, 55% against recall, 41% for recall, 6% undecided.

Sep. 13: Trafalgar Group poll showed, among likely voters, 53% against recall, 45% for recall, 2% undecided. Among replacement candidates, 41% Elder, 23% undecided, 10% Paffrath, 9% "someone else", 4% Faulconer, 4% Kiley, 4% McGowan, 3% Cox, 1% Ross, 1% Drake, 1% Jenner.

Sep. 11: Emerson College poll showed, among likely voters, 60% against recall, 40% for recall. Among replacement candidates, 34% "no one", 30% Elder, 6% Drake, 6% Paffrath, 4% Kiley, 3% McCowan, 3% Cox, 1% Jenner, 1% Ose.

Sep. 10: Data for Progress poll showed, among likely voters, 57% against recall, 43% for recall. Among replacement candidates, 29% "I will leave it blank", 22% Elder, 7% "not sure", 6% Paffrath, 6% Cox, 5% Ross, 5% "a different candidate", 4% McGowan, 4% Faulconer, 3% Watts, 3% Kiley, 2% Baade, 1% Jenner.

Sep. 8: SurveyUSA poll showed, among likely voters, 54% against recall, 41% for recall, 5% undecided. Among replacement candidates, 29% Elder, 13% undecided, 13% Paffrath, 8% Cox, 6% Faulconer, 6% "another candidate", 4% Drake, 4% Baade, 4% McGowan, 3% Ross, 3% Kiley, 2% Kilpatrick, 2% Ventresca, 2% Watts, 2% Jenner, 1% Perez-Serrato.

Sep. 6: Berkeley IGS poll shows, among likely voters, 60% against recall, 38% for recall, 2% undecided. Among replacement candidates, 38% Elder, 16% undecided, 10% Paffrath, 8% Faulconer, 4% Cox, 4% Kiley, 4% "other candidates", 3% Ross, 2% McGowan, 2% Ventresca, 1% Baade, 1% Drake, 1% Hewitt, 1% Jenner, 1% Kapelovitz, 1% Kilpatrick, 1% Watts.

Sep. 6: Suffolk University poll showed, among likely voters, 58% against recall, 41% for recall, 1% undecided. Among replacement candidates, 39% Elder, 29% undecided, 8% "another candidate", 5% Paffrath, 5% Faulconer, 4% Cox, 2% McGowan, 2% Kiley, 2% Ross, 1% Ventresca, 1% Drake, 1% Hewitt, 1% Jenner, 1% Gaines.

Sep. 4: Trafalgar Group poll showed, among likely voters, 53% against recall, 43% for recall, 4% undecided. Among replacement candidates, 32% Elder, 29% undecided, 13% Paffrath, 11% "someone else", 4% Kiley, 3% McGowan, 3% Cox, 1% Jenner.

Aug. 29: Trafalgar Group poll showed, among likely voters, 53% against recall, 43% for recall, 4% undecided. Among replacement candidates, 30% undecided, 29% Elder, 22% Paffrath, 9% "someone else", 4% Faulconer, 4% Cox, 1% Jenner.

Aug. 29: Public Policy Institute of California poll showed, among likely voters, 58% against recall, 39% for recall, 3% don't know. Among replacement candidates, Elder 26%, "no one" 25%, don't know 24%, "someone else" (not on the ballot) 10%, other candidates on ballot 4%, Faulconer 5%, Cox 3%, Kiley 3%, Jenner 1%.

Aug. 28: SurveyUSA poll showed, among likely voters, 46% against recall, 34% for recall, 20% undecided. Among replacement candidates, 22% "amother candidate", 19% undecided, 10% Baade, 8% Elder, 7% Paffrath, 6% Ross, 4% Cox, 4% Drake, 3% Faulconer, 3% Ventresca, 2% Jenner, 2% Kiley.

Aug. 26: Change Research poll showed, among likely voters, 57% against recall, 42% for recall. Among replacement candidates, Elder 27%, "will leave this question blank" 22%, undecided 15%, "a different candidate" 7%, Paffrath 6%, McGowan 5%, Kiley 4%, Faulconer 3%, Ross 3%, Watts 3%.

Aug. 12: CBS News / YouGov poll showed that, among likely voters, 52% against recall, 48% for recall. Among replacement candidates, undecided 25%, Elder 23%, "no one" 20%.

Aug. 4: SurveyUSA / S.D. Union Tribune poll showed a plot twist: Among likely voters, 51% for recall, 40% against, 9% undecided. Among replacement candidates, Paffrath gets 27%, Elder 23%, undecided 20%, Cox 10%. Faulconer 5%, Ose 4%, Jenner 4%, Kiley 3%, others 5%. This poll is now widely questioned, as it so wildly differs from others, and a memo in SurveyUSA's next poll admitted some errors that overstated the popularity of both recall and Paffrath.

Aug. 3: Emerson College and Nexstar Media Inside California Politics poll of likely voters showed 48% against recall, 46% for recall, and 6% undecided. Among replacement candidates, undecided gets 40%, Elder 23%, Cox 7%, Jenner 7%, Kiley 5%, Faulconer 4%, Paffrath 1%, someone else 14%.

July 29: Core Decison Analytics poll showed, among likely voters, 49% against recall, 42% for recall, 9% undecided. Among replacement candidates, undecided gets 34%, Elder 10%, Cox 4%, Paffrath 3%, Faulconer 3%, McGowan 3%, Kiley 2%, someone else 22%.

July 27: Berkeley IGS Poll shows 36% of registered voters for recall, 51% against, 13% undecided. However, among likely voters: 47% for recall, 50% against, 3% undecided. Among replacement candidates, undecided gets 40%, Elder 18%, Cox 10%, Faulconer 10%, Kiley 5%, Paffrath 3%, Jenner 3%.

July 19: Emerson College and Nexstar Media Inside California Politics poll showed a tightening race: 43% for recall, 48% against, 9% undecided.

July 11: Change Research poll shows, among likely voters, 54% against recall, 44% for recall, 2% undecided.

June 3: Moore Information Group poll (hired by Cox's campaign) found the following replacement candidates the most credible, ranked from highest approval (24%) to lowest (4%): Cox, Faulconer, Jenner, Ose. Late-filing candidate Kiley is considered credible, as is candidate and right-wing AM radio talk-show host Elder.

May 25: Public Policy Institute of California poll showed 40% for recall, 57% against recall, 3% undecided.

There are growing reasons why polling accuracy has become difficult, and unique aspects of this election may be making polling extra-uncertain.

Special thanks to Joshua Spivak's Recall Elections Blog, which has valuable analytical insights about recall polling and other recall election matters.


Donations to supporting-recall committees that raised at least $1M:

1. Donations to "California Patriot Coalition - Recall Governor Gavin Newsom":

2. Donations to "Rescue California - Recall Gavin Newsom":

3. Donations to "Larry Elder Ballot Measure Committee Recall Newsom":

Donations to opposing-recall committees that raised at least $1M:

1. Donations to "Stop the Republican Recall of Governor Newsom":

2. Donations to "Essential Workers Opposing the Recall of Governor Gavin Newsom, Sponsored by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO":

3. Donations to "Million Voter Project Action Fund Committee to Oppose Newsom Recall":

Above figures are the official FPPC list a/o Sep. 9, 2021. CalMatters has a different and excellent Campaign Money dashboard.

Recall Election Questions:

Q1: Shall Gov. Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?

(vote yes or no; majority prevails)

RM partisan analysis: It's always in order to review a governor's record, so I'll do so. However, for purposes of this ballot, one can't consider Q1 in isolation as thumbs-up / thumbs-down, because recall isn't a do-over: The automatic effect of Q1 passing is to replace the recallee with whoever ekes out plurality on Q2, even an extremist disliked by almost all California voters — a serious risk with this election's crowd.

So, bear in mind, regardless of your views, that your decision on Q1 needed to hinge on whether you think Gavin Newsom is better or worse than whoever's likely to be Q2's top vote-getter. Bottom line: The two questions are joined at the hip, and effectively you ought to compare Newsom against the top-polling aspiring replacements before deciding on Q1. Whether Newsom is good or bad matters less than does whether his probable replacement would be better or worse.

I'm stressing the above heavily because many voters seem not to "get" the two ballot questions' context, how they fit together, and why one's highly relevant to the other.

Gavin Newsom's record in elected office (always as a Democratic Party figure) starts with 1997 appointment to fill a vacancy on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, then re-election to serve two-year terms in 1998, 2000, and 2002. This was followed by his two terms (2004-2011) as San Francisco mayor. I'll skip details, but Wikipedia has a summary. Upon guessing he'd lose 2010's governor race to Jerry Brown, he switched to running as Brown's Lt. Gov., serving two terms (2011-2019). That eight years is relevant, because in my opinion it's unwise to entrust the country's most populous state (that would be the world's fifth largest economy, if independent) to a novice. Gov. Brown was a master of public affairs; one can reasonably hope and expect Newsom learned much, over those eight years. That's part of what the Lt. Gov. office is for.

How's he done since his 2018 election? In my opinion, so-so, if judged by the Jerry Brown standard; slightly above average, by normal standards. I'd call his first two years' record reasonable effectiveness, marred by showboating and some unforced errors.

On the minus side, unlike Gov. Brown, Newsom veered headlong into contentious wedge issues (capital punishment, cannabis legalization, prison reform, gun control, gig-worker classification), wasting political capital and accomplishing little. Also, he not only failed to do the wildfire mitigation he promised in his 2018 campaign, but also cut funding for fire prevention.

In other areas, he's done better despite unprecedented problems thrust onto the state but not his fault. He (initially) managed the budget and maintained Gov. Brown's initiative of getting the state General Fund and long-term financing in better shape (though subsequent pandemic stimulus measures have predictably stressed things greatly). In his first year, he enacted substantial poverty relief, expanded early childhood education, extended free school meals for all, and championed & signed sensible reform of charter schools.

The wildfire problem is primarily a consequence of climate change and consequent drought, not Newsom failure at "forest management" as suggested by critics. There has been indeed a statewide failure to deal with the difficult problem of clearing out trees killed by drought from remote, rugged terrain, but reasons this is not the Governor's fault include ownership of California's forest lands: Those are 57% Federally-owned, 40% privately-owned, and only 3% state-owned. (Additionally, many of the wildfires, perhaps most, have arisen in grasslands rather than forests.)

Wildfires, the pandemic, and the resumed drought have posed overwhelming challenges for Newsom's first two years. As noted, his failure to mitigate wildfire risk is a mark against Newsom; having done that at the beginning, he's done nothing wrong in those areas since then, and, on the one emergency he could fully address (the pandemic) has been a national leader (other than one unforced error that I'll discuss shortly).

A minority of Californians will noisily and angrily disagree with me on that latter point, and react with misdirected emotion. I'm fine with that: They're dead wrong. They are also alive to be dead wrong significantly thanks to Newsom's aggressive albeit obviously unpopular public health measures recommended to him by CA Dept. of Public Health. All of you who want to yell at me that you "disagree" with lockdowns, masking, social distancing, and vaccine & mask mandates, save your breath. Unlike a politician, I don't have to coddle irrationality, reality-denial, and acting-out, so, bottom line: You folks, kindly grow up. That's not patriotism you're play-acting; it's adolescence.

The French Laundry thing? Personally, I think he and his fellow posh yuppies (including Newsom's friend the birthday boy, Newsom advisor and Axiom Advisors lobbyist Jason Kinney) should have been investigated by a grand jury to see if he should be indicted for violation of Napa County public health regs. I'm annoyed at his hypocrisy and failure of personal leadership, too — but otherwise that infuriating lapse of judgement had nothing to do with whether he did the job of governor well or poorly.

Another disaster Newsom has been tainted with but didn't personally cause is the hugely expensive EDD fraud scandal. EDD, in handing out extended unemployment benefits during the pandemic (that Newsom authorized), was helpless to catch and prevent vast benefits fraud. This was possible because EDD's safeguards have been underfunded and weak for decades, but not on account of Newsom. And the rising homelessness problem, the signature issue cited by GOP replacement candidates as Newsom's personal failing, simply wasn't of his making (not to mention that GOP critics' solutions are dreadful and would make matters worse). GOP charges that Newsom is responsible for "rising crime" tend to founding on the fact that crime is down. And the last GOP complaint, that vast numbers of residents are "fleeing California", isn't even true, either.

Further unforced errors: In the middle of recall campaigning, Newsom and wife suddenly sold their posh home in posh Kentfield for a princely $5.9 million, reminding everyone he runs in well-heeled circles. Also, while public schools were heavily restricted by his order, photos were published of his 10-year-old son at an expensive, private summer camp, going about indoors, maskless, and Gov. Newsom then hastily yanked his children home.

Oh, I should mention that some people get worked up over symbolic culture-wars stuff. I'm going to disregard it as having vanishingly little to do with the reality of governing.

The showboating's a recurring misfeature of Newsom's character, irksome more than harmful. For example, when he suddenly gave a speech on Mar. 25th announcing vaccine availability for all Californians age 50 and over starting April 1st, and for 16+ starting April 15th, local health officials were reportedly blindsided, and vaccine supplies ran out immediately and almost didn't exist at all for about another month-plus, but Newsom seemed to want to get credit without worrying about followthrough. The cutting of fire-prevention funding feels like the reverse of that; Why not cut something that's just hard work with no personal glory? Newsom would clearly like to be President, envisions himself as JFK Part Deux, and often ought to concentrate less on PR potential and more on getting the work done. As L.A. Times put it, "his public communications have been muddled and confusing at times". E.g., at first, essential workers were a Newsom priority for getting vaccination, then suddenly without good reason they weren't. E.g., there was his January stay-at-home reopening announcement that took everyone including everyone affected by surprise, and then his April school opening announcement that took everyone by including everyone affected by surprise. Gosh, one begins to see a pattern. The showboating, glory-hounding, sometimes erratic messaging, and occasional unforced errors are part of that picture.

To sum, if I were giving Newsom a letter grade on the curve of all other CA governors, it would be a B- or C+, with laudatory remarks on the report card about young Gavin's commendable efforts to overcome challenges. Thus, unless I thought a significantly better replacement candidate was a shoe-in on Q2 — and, as we'll see, I very much am not — I voted hell no on Q1.

Again, just to re-stress, even people thinking Newsom's been historically dreadful needed to ponder, before selecting "yes" on Q1, whether Governor Larry Elder might have been much worse, because that was really the relevant comparison. Haven't we yet learned from 2020-2021 that there's always room for worse?

Also, a personal plea: For the love of all that's holy, please remind everyone you know to vote. This is was a five-alarm fire, and it all comes came down to turnout: Low turnout (predicted) is would have been the short path to disastrous selection of an otherwise too-extreme loon as governor, who would never survive CA's regular election process. Mustering out regular voters would avert averted that tragedy.

Outcome (Oct. 12, 2021 official results):

Turnout: 58% (12838565 votes, out of 22,047,448 registered voters), cf. 63% turnout (12,464,235 votes out of 19,696,371 registered voters) at 2018's gubernatorial election.

RM partisan analysis:

rout (n.): beating, defeat, drubbing, licking, loss, lump, overthrow, plastering, shellacking, trimming, trouncing, whipping, blowout, cakewalk, landslide, romp, runaway, sweep, walkaway, walkover.

rout (v.): annihilate, blow away, bomb, bury, clobber, cream, drub, dust, flatten, paste, shellac, skin, skunk, smoke, smother, snow under, thrash, trim, tromp, trounce, wallop, wax [slang], whip, whomp, whop (or whap), whup, sweep, upset, beat, best, conquer, dispatch, hurdle, lick, master, overbear, overcome, overmatch, prevail (over), subdue, surmount, take, throw, triumph (over), win (against), worst, crush, knock off, knock over, overpower, overthrow, overwhelm, subjugate, upend, vanquish, ace (out), better, eclipse, exceed, outdistance, outdo, outfight, outshine, outstrip, overtop, surpass, top, transcend, edge (out), nose out, pip [British], cap, excel, flourish, score, succeed, break, destroy, do in, finish, sink, slaughter, beat the pants off, eat alive, run circles around (or run rings around), wipe the floor with (or wipe the ground with).

It seems fair to say that this decisive trouncing, where Newsom equaled his 2018 historic 24-point drubbing of John Cox, proves Californians endorse Newsom's strong COVID-19 response and also utterly reject Mr. Elder's Trumpist demagoguery.

Remarkably, the CA GOP seem likely to respond to their party's abject failure by doubling down, and running Mr. Elder again against Newsom in 2022's regular gubernatorial election. We live in interesting times. Another takeaway lesson is that California's remarkably large (and growing) 24% of voters registered NPP (no party preference) includes many ex-Republican moderates, driven out by extremist takeover of that formerly sane and competitive party. Thus, CA GOP's now-shrunken 24% registration share: The rump party remains held captive by wackos, and thus no longer able to compete statewide, only locally within the "reddest" regions.

CA GOP folks: You might have beaten Newsom, if you'd only had the common sense to rally behind Faulconer, thus appealing to NPP and moderate Democratic Party voters — as you did with Gov. Schwarzenegger. If your slide towards irrelevance continues, remember this election as one of your biggest missed chances.

But here is where things become dark. As many noted, candidate Elder, supported by a vast amount of interference-running from right-wing pundits, GOP personalities, and periodicals, wielded the total package of Trumpist demogoguery including "vote fraud" / "rigged election" flummery, but hilariously rolled out his Web site claiming "statistical analyses" had "detected fraud in California resulting in Governor Gavin Newsom being reinstated as governor" and suggesting resort to the "ammo box" because the ballot box had failed — a week before any votes had been counted, which rather gives away the game, doesn't it? And all of us politically aware people laughed our behinds off, and laughed again when Elder was driven to concede by the voters having given him a 2:1-margin ass-kicking, something, after all, hardly surprising with an attempt to unseat a popular Democratic Party governor in one of the bluest of blue states, where only a quarter (and shrinking) of all voters register Republican, and there are twice as many Democrats. Hilarious, right?

Sorry, not amusing at all. The 2:1-margin outcome was the only happy thing in this picture. The rest — the baseless accusations of vote-rigging included — was public rollout of the classic fascism playbook, creating chaos, undermining public confidence in democratic institutions and government, and then offering a different sort of order. If turnout had been low, as widely predicted, and Q1 came in as a thin 53% / 47% scraping by, the "stolen election" wackos, many of them armed and all of them deeply invested in the illegitimacy of our democracy, would have been a big problem.

And, I would maintain, they remain one, even if they're on temporary vacation from attacking California's democratic institutions, because we're obviously not done. The grift continues, and will be kept going as long as there are delusional believers to relieve of donation money to help "stop the steal" (theft not included).

This wasn't the insanity's burnout. This was a $276M+ dress rehearsal (1, 2) of methods increasingly being used by far-right radicals to undermine American democracy. The problem is getting worse, and there's a long way down for "worse" to go, including active subversion of election management at the level of local and state election officials. Fact-checking of conspiracy nonsense isn't nearly enough. Finding a sense of urgency, about an existential threat to the country, where we expect lawlessness and subversion from far-right radicals as "payback" for imaginary past subversion by their opponents, would be a start.

It's instructive that CA GOP's biannual convention (1, 2) over Sept. 24-26 included zero introspection about where the party went wrong, in appealing to state voters. Far from there being any repudiation of Trumpist attacks on electoral integrity, all they admitted was having been outspent (true), and that far-right conspiracy theories about "rigged ballots" suppressed the GOP's own turnout (probably also true).

I'll let former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have the last word (as quoted by the L.A. Times): He said the GOP’s refusal to adapt its stances on climate change, healthcare, women’s issues, and the pandemic is precisely why they lost the recall election, and thought the party would have learned from its recent string of losses, "that they failed, and they would understand why, and make adjustments. But they haven’t. It’s the definition of insanity."

Moreover: "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle" (Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents). History will not remember well GOP figures who did nothing to stop their party being used as a vehicle to attack our democracy, whose health and continued existence past this decade is very much not assured.

Necessarily, then, we now move on to the puzzle's other half:

Q2: Candidates to succeed Gavin Newsom, if the Governor is recalled

(vote for any one candidate; candidate who receives the highest number of votes is the successor to the unexpired term)

The 46 certified candidates (where "NPP" indicates no party preference):

RM partisan analysis: The easy way to depopulate the clown car, from 46 to 6 funny noses: Look at the poll results. Six replacement candidate own about half the mindshare: Elder, Cox, Faulconer, Kiley, Paffrath, and Jenner. To readers who love longshots like Joel Ventresca, go, you! But I'm going to stay grounded in the real world.

Longshots with no ground game don't win. Write-ins with no ground game don't win. Which reminds me, please don't do write-ins, for reasons I'll detail, but if you're determined to ignore my advice, vote only for a name on the Secretary of State's list of qualified write-in candidates who've filed required paperwork. Votes for not-qualified names were automatically discarded and never counted, for reasons I detailed earlier.

As the key issue for Q2 is who's the least-bad choice, we'll now survey the thinned-out clown car.

John Cox (R): Public office record? Nada. Basic picture: Perennial candidate, losing many times starting 2000, culminating with being CA GOP's candidate for governor in 2018, and getting trounced by Newsom by 24 percentage points. GOP seems to have washed its hands of him; his current campaign is self-funded, and festooned with tawdry props such as, first, a live Kodiac bear (lately inspiring a lawsuit charging animal abuse), then an 8-foot ball of trash, and lately a giant board-game mockup called Gavinopoly.

Pushes tax cuts, kicking homeless off streets, forcing treatment on the mentally ill and drug addicts. Major Trump supporter, and courted Trump's endorsement in 2018. Anti-abortion guy, multimillionaire real estate investor (and, frankly, slumlord). Proposes 25% tax cut, big reductions in state spending.

After his 24-point trouncing against Newsom in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, in an SFGate interview, blamed ballot-harvesting by Tom Steyer, Mike Bloomberg, and George Soros, i.e, invented an antisemitic "stolen-election" conspiracy theory to explain his loss.

Served with a subpoena during one of the recall campaign debates, on live television, for allegedly failing to pay his debts in his prior gubernatorial campaign.

Mandates: KXTV ch. 10 ABC Sac'to says Cox said "I don’t think we should do mandates", but didn't clarify what that exactly means concerning either mask or vaccine mandates. Later, clarified to L.A. Times he's opposed to vaccine mandates.

Summed up by Sac'to Bee's editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman as: "Ursine-American / Californian political performance artist."

The self-parody is strong in this one. (Howard Stassen at least had some dignity.)

Larry Elder (R): Public office record? Nada. Basic picture: Calls himself "the Sage from South Central", but he's a rich, Ivy League-grad lawyer who uses an accounting office address in South Lake Tahoe to direct attention away from actually living in a posh mansion in L.A.'s Hollywood Hills district. Hard-right AM-radio talk show host. Says he would declare a state of emergency in order to fire a large number of teachers and institute a statewide school voucher program. Says he'd declare a second state of emergency to "suspend" the California Environmental Quality Act. Intends to attempt both states of emergency even though there is no such gubernatorial power, plunging the government into a long lawsuit against itself. (Note: CA's Legislature may terminate any state of emergency via majority vote in both Senate and Assembly.)

Misogyny corner: Declares that any termination of pregnancy for any reason is "murder". Denies there's any "glass ceiling" for women in employment. Opposed the state law requiring leave for care of new children or family members with medical emergencies. Claimed that "women know less than men about political issues, economics and current events" and are therefore more easily manipulated. (Note: Elder claimed this misogynistic interpretation was supported by studies from Annenberg Policy Center, whose director, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, strongly differs with his interpretation.) Advocates employers being able to ask their female employees if and when they intend to get pregnant. Ex-fiancée Alexandra Datig says he brandished a gun against her in 2015. (Elder denies the claim.) Repeatedly demanded that Ms. Datig, whom he met in the early 2000s at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion parties, get a "Larry's Girl" tattoo on her lower back to prove her devotion to him. She complied, and Elder then hung a large portrait of the tattoo in their home for visitors to see. (Ms. Datig has subsequently had the tattoo removed.) It has also emerged that Elder requires that his girlfriends sign Non-Disclosure Agreements, and press outlets have now obtained copies.

Mocked premenstrual syndrome, known as PMS, calling it "Punish My Spouse (or Significant Other)." Featured on his Web site a 1950s textbook on "how to be a good wife" that said women should "have dinner ready" and told them, "Don't complain." Republished on his site an article comparing single mothers receiving welfare to stray cats. Tweeted a picture of three women at a protest against sexual assault with the comment "Ladies, I think you’re safe." Mocked women attending the January 2017 Women's March as "obese". Claimed on his Web site that violence against women is exaggerated for political advantage. Touted on that Web page an article claiming that the 1994 Violence Against Women Act had the goal of "redistributing power from the ruling class (men) to the oppressed class (women)". Another of those articles rhetorically asked "Why does our culture refuse to hold women as well as men accountable for their participation in domestic violence?" Excuses pregnancy discrimination, saying working mothers aren't "dedicated" and unwilling to give "all-hands-on-deck commitment" to work. Criticized Jane Swift (R) of MA for agreeing to be acting governor after giving birth to twins, saying "to tell women they can run a state, have family and children, and be equally attentive to all — is a lie." Has been on multiple occasions accused of sexual harassment.

Revealed at a campaign appearance at a fundamentalist church that he opposes all sex education for school students, trans rights, and access to abortion services. According to anti-abortion activist Lila Rose, pledged to eliminate abortion funding using line-item veto, veto any abortion access laws, appoint anti-abortion judges and regulators, and drop criminal charges against anti-abortion provocateurs.

Wants to eliminate the minimum wage entirely, usually justifying his view with reference to a 1987 N.Y. Times editorial that he misrepresents completely. Denies second-hand smoking hurts people. Recently promoted on his radio program a pandemic denialist and said nothing at all as she charged that Bill Gates is using vaccines to do population control. Wants to abolish the IRS and income taxes, pass an (economically regressive) national sales tax, wants to end all welfare and social safety-net expenditures, wants to eliminate all corporate taxes. Wants to cut all government by 80%. Anti-LGBTQ, anti-BLM. Wants no gun control at all. Supports offshore oil-drilling and wishes to suspend environmental protection regulations. Wants to end the "war on oil and gas". Thinks we need more fracking and less wind and solar power. Thinks Medicare should be abolished. Has kept repeating for decades that private charities are a better solution than is government, but his own (small) private charity flopped, it did zero charitable work, and there's now a lingering mystery about where its donation money went.

Elder successfully challenged California's requirement that candidates disclose five years of income taxes, but required campaign disclosures nonetheless revealed that, as candidate, he is being bankrolled by The Epoch Times, perennial purveyor of political misinformation and far-right conspiracy theories.

Downplayed police violence against Blacks, in comments about the Jan. 6, 2021 US Capitol insurrection, claiming that Black Lives Matter protesters would've been treated better by police than were Trump insurrectionists, and that "The real danger lies with the NAACP not with the KKK.". Recently claimed racism no longer exists in the United States — following his usual style, justifying this view by misrepresenting a 1987 Time magazine survey of Black teenagers and a a 2016 study by Harvard Professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. about racial bias in police shootings. E.g., in his interview with the L.A. Times, he recounted that police stopped him "between 75 and 100 times", the first year he had his driver's licence. Asked if he agreed this was racial profiling, he said no, it happened solely because he "looked young". Blamed the deaths of George Floyd and other Black men on Pres. Obama, who Elder opined should have encouraged citizens to better "comply with the police" to avoid getting shot to death. Thinks welfare is responsible for the dissolution of Black families. Bashes the press when they ask him probing questions. Said in July 2021 that, on libertarian principle, it is arguable that slaveowners should have been compensated for their property loss, when slavery was outlawed. Has repeatedly quoted crooked statistics and dishonest rhetoric from white supremicist Jared Taylor to argue that Black people are unusually crime-prone, etc., and featured the white-supremacist Web site Vdare. Opposes all immigration reform, including DACA, wishing to deny migrants citizenship, state healthcare, in-state tuition, and driver's licenses. Often conflates Latino presence with crime. Promoted Obama birtherism. Published a book in 2008 titled "Stupid Black Men". Not welcome in his childhood neighborhood, South Central L.A. Said he'd have voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As a libertarian, supports getting government out of drug enforcement at the Federal and state level.

In his candidate interview with the L.A. Times, made a series of astonishing false statements: Claimed President Barack Obama never attended public school. (Untrue. He did so during his boyhood years in Indonesia.) Claimed the California Environmental Quality Act was "waived" for construction of a stadium for the Sacramento Kings. (Untrue. The Legislature did amend CEQA in ways that expedited construction of that stadium, however.) Claimed Los Angeles and San Francisco’s district attorneys were appointed by Newsom. (Untrue. Both were elected in the normal way.) Claimed nearly 70% of Black children are "brought into the world without a father married to the mother". (Untrue. US Census data say 54.2% of Black children had either two unmarried parents or a single parent.)

For a very long time, was a climate-change denialist, claiming, in defiance of science, that global warming is a "crock" and a "myth". He's lately said he's changed his mind. In fact, recently in an interview he offered $10,000 to charity for proof he ever said that. (He certainly did say that.) His newer version of the same claim (that he denies ever having made) is that "nobody really knows to what degree" humans caused climate change. (That revised claim, by the way, is likewise false. Recently said he's "not sure" that California's wildfires are driven by climate change.)

Worst of all, and most dangerous, Elder opposes state measures to control pandemic spread. (Under his mismanagement, we'd become Florida West.)

Mandates: KXTV ch. 10 ABC Sac'to says Elder "will fight any and all vaccine and mask govt mandates at state and local level" if elected governor. Claims young people don't need vaccines.

Elder has from the beginning been a big-time supporter of all matters Trump, but, lately, for strictly tactical reasons as far-right columnist Drew Allen has noted, has back-burnered his Trump boosterism, because he must fool gullible Democratic voters into thinking he's a "moderate", before he can expect to prevail on Q2. Specifically, for example, he tried to soothe moderate critics by acknowledging to Sac'to Bee's editorial board that Biden/Harris fairly won the 2020 election, but then almost immediately said the exact opposite to his far-right AM radio audience. When questioned by the Washington Post about this double-talk, Elder claimed (without explaining the contradiction in his statements) that there had been "shenanigans" in swing states, and an Elder campaign spokeperson elaborated that "Larry is simply referring to the need for election integrity", and pointed to a temporary 2020 injunction against no-excuses absentee voting in Pennsylvania as supposedly showing such voting to be illegal, disregarding that the TRO was vacated three days later and the case dismissed by the state Supreme Court, and the fact of the GOP-controlled legislature in Wisconsin having hired a special counsel to "investigate serious wrongdoing" (who has so far found nothing — following the Maricopa Co., AZ "Cyber Ninjas" playbook of manufactured controversy).

In fact, he was by a country mile the most extreme of the far-right candidates. Be warned. Backed Trump’s migrant family separation policy, was a mentor to Trump's worst advisor, crypto-neoNazi Stephen Miller, who Elder said he'd like to see become US President. Echoed Trump's opinion that Latino immigrants are criminals. Parrots election fraud conspiracies, and sows mistrust in America's election system. Told an audience of conservatives in 2019 that Trump "is almost God-sent" (though in 2021 he tries to downplay and distract from his devoted Trump cultism).

It should be noted that our Legislature cannot be any form of check on a rogue governor in a number of areas: An out-of-control governor can appoint replacements to fill vacant offices (up to and including California's US Senate seats and judges), destroy state pandemic response, sign executive orders to roll back environmental protections, criminal justice reform, and the social safety net, and abuse the gubernatorial line-item veto to selectively sabotage the state government's effectiveness for ideological reasons, e.g., to eliminate all state support for abortions, waste California's $38+ billion budget surplus on favored causes, and selectively order the dropping of prosecution charges against fellow far-right activists such as David Daleiden & Sandra Merritt. And Elder would have done all of those things.

Summed up by Sac'to Bee's editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman as: "Right-wing talk radio crank / 1040 Sharpie wiz."

Basically, way out of step with California. This glib, shifty demagogue would be considered a posturing right-wing nutjob even in Idaho. And, here's the clincher: In most polls, he was the top vote-getter, with a small but crucial plurality. Thus, voting "yes" on Q1 (remove Newsom) was tantamount to a vote for unpopular far-fringe candidate Elder. And so was voting for anyone on Q2 who was unlikely to outpoll Elder.

Kevin Faulconer (R): Public office record: (Bland) former San Diego mayor (6 years). Previously San Diego City Council member for eight years. Basic picture: Climate action moderate. Vetoed a minimum-wage increase. Behaved responsibly about the COVID-19 outbreak, while mayor, and pro-vaccination. Pro-choice. Worked well with San Diego's majority-Democratic City Council. Supports capital punishment. Wants to roll back some of the criminal justice reform efforts passed by California voters in recent years. Development booster: Pledged to reform the California Environmental Quality Act to make it easier to build housing. Supports immigration reform and marriage equality. Backs immigration reform. Pushed for ban on San Diego PD chokeholds after the death of George Floyd. Defended his supporting Trump as "it was the right choice", even after the Jan. 6th US Capitol insurrection, and generally became a full-on Trumpist in 2020. However, also acknowledges Biden/Harris's victory. Slightly troublingly, he was possibly tainted in a local real-estate scandal about a bungled $128 million real estate deal. San Diego Union Tribune gave Faulconer a final grade of C- as mayor (after awarding him a D- in 2018). It wrote that “in major ways, he mismanaged the mayor’s office as never before” called the 101 Ash Street real-estate scandal “a fiasco for the ages.”

As San Diego mayor, promoted a baseless QAnon conspiracy theory that Gov. Newsom had legalized child sexual abuse.

Mandates: KXTV ch. 10 ABC Sac'to says Faulconer "strongly opposes mask mandates in public schools" but didn't say what that actually means, and didn't address mask mandates outside public schools. He suggested he might ban such local public school mandates, but then again he might not. He didn't address vaccine mandates. Later, clarified (slightly) to L.A. Times that he'd oppose a ban on local vaccine or mask mandates.

Summed up by Sac'to Bee's editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman as: "Guy who really regrets posing with Trump that one time in the Oval Office" or perhaps "Blandly inoffensive generic mediocre SoCal politician with nothing else better to do, honestly."

The man seems mostly a decent fellow, on balance and I've voted for many Republicans rather like him — depending on who's the opposition. He's the sort of traditional, adult-in-the-room Republican I respect, value, and sometimes support — other than that poor management record in his city (and his Trumpist/QAnon craziness in latter years). Faulconer also has little recognition or support outside San Diego. Thus, sadly, he was less good on balance, in my opinion, than was political novice Kevin Paffrath — because Mr. Faulconer just wasn't as likely to outpoll Larry Elder, my main objective on Q2.

Caitlyn Jenner (R): Public office record? Nada. Basic picture: Was a 1976 Olympic gold medalist decathlete, famously trans since 2015 (but holding anti-trans views, and has become a reality-TV personality, one-time Kardashian in-law, and fervent Trumpista (despite Mr. Trump's hostility towards, and backstabbing of, trans legal rights). Wants to remove controls on land development, veto any tax proposal, cut government, but also paradoxically splurge state funds on Trump's border wall and lavish money (what money?) on first responders for fighting wildfires. Wants to throw tax money at religious organizations. Spends a lot of time blathering about "critical race theory", how much conservatives are persecuted, how much more support police departments need, and the usual symbolic stuff. Has been a bit erratic, gaffe-prone, and just about totally devoid of policy proposals. Suddenly vanished to Australia to film "Celebrity Apprentice" for most of July at the height of campaign season. Has relied on Trump figures (Brad Parscale, Tony Fabrizio, etc.) for campaign management and strategy. Refused to say whether the 2020 presidential election was stolen or not. Regularly re-tweets far-right extremists and conspiracy outlets like OANN, and has repeatedly promoted far-right conspiracy theories, for example asserting that “it’s legal to steal” in San Francisco. Retweeted a claim that California prosecutors are barred from prosecuting thefts under $950 (which is false).

Critical of COVID public health measures. Prone to moaning about how awful California is. Opposes a state law allowing employees to sue and recover civil penalties for labor code violations. Has a habit of attacking journalists who interview her.

Mandates: KXTV ch. 10 ABC Sac'to says Jenner posted on social media that she believes in "our right to live freely and make decisions for ourselves", but has not clarified what this amounts to concerning either mask or vaccine mandates. Later, pointed to Florida and Texas as examples of good handling of the pandemic, and opposed either vaccine or mask mandates.

Summed up by Sac'to Bee's editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman as: "Brand extension goddess / public policy naif."

Jenner came across as a vaguer, non-misogynistic sort of Larry Elder, without his Ivy League polish and law degree, almost as harmful to the state's public good, but with an extra dollop of chaos.

Kevin Kiley (R): Public office record? California Assembly (6th Dist., Rocklin, outer NE Sacramento suburbs, foothills, and Sacramento Valley farmland), two terms. Lost trying to move to the California Senate. Basic picture: Harvard / Yale / Loyola Marymount U. lawyer; used to be a Deputy AG. Fervent charter school guy. Not much of a Trumpista, as he supported John Kasich in 2016. Was very proud of a 2020 lawsuit invalidating Gov. Newsom's executive order that all registered voters receive vote-by-mail ballots for the Nov. 2020 general election in light of the pandemic, although the ruling had zero net effect because the Legislature in the meantime had seconded Newsom's action. Emitted much content-free blather about "critical race theory". Wants to overhaul DMV and EDD to "make them modern, performance-based, and more helpful for residents", whatever that means. Doesn't seem to have a platform other than "I don't like Newsom." Which persona he takes to ludicrous extremes.

Rated highly by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, gun-rights groups, and business groups; has received relatively poor marks from labor, environmental, and civil rights groups. Has a pattern of mutual admiration with far-right "Pizzagate" promoter Mike Cernovich and other hardcore conspiracy theorists.

L.A. Times wrote that Kiley's a "worrisome ideologue", who among other problems refused to answer when the Times editorial board asked whether he felt Biden/Harris were legitimately elected.

Mandates: KXTV ch. 10 ABC Sac'to says Kiley says he would lift the COVID-19 state of emergency, thus ending the limits on evictions, ending allowing marriages to be conducted online, ending extending tax collection deadlines, ending changes of school deadlines, ending changes to the rules for public meetings, etc. He said he is "100% against" any statewide mask mandate, without saying what that means pragmatically. He hasn't addressed vaccine mandates diretcly, but said he'd end any and all COVID-19 restrictions as supposedly unconstitutional.

Summed up by Sac'to Bee's editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman as: "Annoying twerp waiting to run for the worst congressman in America, Tom McClintock’s, seat."

He seems like a larval-stage politico with attitude projection and big dreams. Looks to be about, what, 22 years old or something? (I'm joking. He's 36.)

Kevin Paffrath (D): Public office record? Nada. Basic picture: Itinerant financial wonk spending most of his time opinionating on YouTube and with marginal contact with reality other than real estate, where he's a player in that industry (in which he made his fortune), and in personal financial counseling. Described as a "natural salesman". Had a record of some nasty YouTube video tutoring of fellow real estate people about how great it is to mislead tenants, and about ways to evade renting properties to people with suboptimal credit scores. Got into a sordid feud with fellow real estate personality Grant Cardone that culminated in trespassing charges, later dismissed, over a stunt in Cardone's office.

This guy's even more larval-stage than Kiley, all of 29 years old. His campaign platform includes hundreds of (based on a sampling) fairly reasonable and detailed position papers, except, pretty dubiously, yet another proposal to declare a state of emergency to build two million new homes in four years. (This is outside the governor's powers, and would grind to a halt in a cloud of litigation. Note that CA's Legislature may terminate any state of emergency via majority vote in both Senate and Assembly.) Very troublingly, he says he would also leverage this state of emergency to round up every unhoused person in the state and forcibly place them in one of 80 "Modern Emergency Facilities" that he would cause to be constructed, and that an estimated two percent who prove unwilling will be forcibly committed to state mental institutions. Also, his notion of a 14' diameter water pipeline from the Mississippi River to California is daft, making no economic or political sense (at least, without strong top-down override of normal deal-making).

Other questionable aspects of Paffrath, quoting The San Francisco League of Pissed-Off Voters: "His platform includes expanding gun rights, slashing social safety net funding, building tunnels under existing freeways instead of investing in transit, and giving more money to police."

I'm wary of taking a hyperenergetic millennial salesman and social-media celebrity seriously. He is obviously woefully underqualified for the big seat, albeit even Faulconer and Kiley are woefully underqualified, and they've at least held elected office. What makes Paffrath noteworthy is (1) his positions aren't out of step with most Californians (other than that two-million-new-homes and National Guard craziness, and the water pipeline), and (2) he was polling high, doubtless in part because of his 1.65 million regular YouTube followers. Like Faulconer, but very unlike the others, he'd behave sanely concerning pandemic response. Uniquely out of all the credible candidates, he would not have put some lunatic Republican into 88-year-old Senator Feinstein's seat if she dies or retires soon. (If that happens, don't forget, the suddenly Republican Senate, once again under Mitch McConnell, would have had no scruples against denying President Biden a Supreme Court appointment, if, say, 83-year-old liberal Justice Stephen Breyer dies or steps down.)

Mandates: KXTV ch. 10 ABC Sac'to says Paffrath wouldn't impose any mandate on a state level, but would avoid getting in the way of local mandates.

Summed up by Sac'to Bee's editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman as... : Oh, darn. Ohman didn't "do" Paffrath. I would venture, in his place: "California Democrats' accidental backup plan whom they don't talk about and fear to think about. May occasionally confuse governance with vlogging."

I'd have been a little uneasy with this guy as governor, but the others were on balance worse, particularly on the vital "filling Dianne Feinstein's seat" issue. Also, there's a saying that governors are only as good as their staffs, and a Governor Paffrath for 15 1/2 months would have been at least likely to inherit the current governor's staff and be smart enough to listen to them.

I believe where I ended up should be obvious from the above. If Newsom had been removed via Q1, I would have feared for my state under five out of the six front-runners, but particularly under Larry Elder. The sixth, Kevin Paffrath — as a relatively intelligent, not overly evil, generally sane nonentity, who wouldn't put a lunatic into Dianne Feinstein's seat (term ending in January 2025) and flip the US Senate — was easily the least-bad choice, in my opinion. I voted for Paffrath on Q2.

Why you should not have written in Betty Yee, or Barbara Boxer, or Ron Dellums, or John Burton, or Pete McCloskey, or Catharine Baker, or frankly anyone else (disregarding, for a moment, that none of those filed qualifying papers, hence would have been an invalid vote anyway): Simple: Because that wouldn't have accomplished anything other than make you feel cleaner, and meanwhile would have done nothing to prevent us getting Governor Larry Elder. Because he was a high-poller, Paffrath was our best hope of outpolling Elder on Q2 with someone basically harmless. The perfect (and even the good) was the enemy of the just-good-enough. You should have sought to do just-good-enough, here, as anything better was off the table. You'd have thanked yourself if you helped prevent an Elder Administration when Senator Feinstein's seat lay vacant, and life in California had narrowly averted becoming one huge COVID-19 superspreader event, because of competent public health measures.

Why you should have disregarded bad advice from Newsom's staff, Jackie Speier, California Democratic Party spokeswoman Shery Yang, California Labor Federation, California Federation of Teachers, etc. to leave Q2 blank: They were merely afraid you'd repeat the fatal error many Democratic voters made in the 2003 Gov. Davis recall, of voting for the recall on Q1 (voting "yes"), while thinking that's necessary and useful for getting a Democrat on Q2. Quoting Gov. Gray Davis campaign consultant Garry South:

"What we found to our chagrin in our polling and focus grouping, was that there was a disturbingly meaningful number of Democrats who thought they could have a two-for-one sale", meaning Democrats thought they could oust unpopular Gov. Davis (via Q1) and elect Democratic Lt. Gov. Bustamante (via Q2). Which error elected a Republican, Gov. Schwarzenegger.

So, basically, CA Democrats preferred you ignore Q2, out of fear you'd flub Q1. But there was an alternative: Don't repeat the 2003 blunder, vote to retain Newsom (vote "no" on Q1), but pick a credible candidate for Q2 as insurance.

Outcome (Oct. 22, 2021 official results):

As Q1 failed, the outcome of Q2 doesn't matter (none of the candidates won), but is presented here for the record.

7,349,645 votes were cast on Q2.

RM partisan analysis: However, 43% of voters participating, 5,488,920, skipped Q2. Thus, if including "nobody" votes, Mr. Elder got 28%.




Additional Resources

Lifehacker article: "How to Quickly Research All Your Local Elections"

Fair Political Practices Commission has contributor records that help follow the money trail.

Followers of these pages will note that I always heed Pete Stahl's analyses (of statewide propositions), League of Women Voters of CA (a highly respected non-partisan voter education organization), Ballotpedia (a project of nonprofit Lucy Burns Institute of Wisconsin), CalMatters (an independent journalism venture run as a nonprofit out of Sac'to), Voter's Edge (whose California pages are a joint project of League of Women Voters of California Education Fund and Berkeley nonprofit MapLight that studies and tracks the influence of money on politics in the United States), Vote Smart (a non-profit, non-partisan research organization), Politifact (a fact-checking site run by non-profit journalism school Poynter Institute), ProPublica (an NYC journalism nonprofit project), and the greater or lesser wisdom of hard-working newspaper staffs.

Left Coast Right Watch is of course partisan, but eagle-eyed about some candidates' involvement with political extremism.

Supreme Court of California Blog (SCOCAblog) has astute coverage of legal issues about voting and related matters.

I also strongly recommend skim-reading Ballotpedia's Laws governings the initiative process in California page and making sure one understands it, prior to evaluating statewide propositions. Parts of it are highly relevant to proposition tactics (e.g., competing propositions on the same topic, legislative alteration) and other vital concerns.

True California-politics professionals subscribe to California Target Book, a comprehensive non-partisan effort to study state districts and political races. (I am not that obsessive.)

1 Certified write-in candidates: Roxanne (no surname given) (D - San Jose), Stacy Smith (D - Oakland), Major Williams (R - Murrieta), Thuy E. Hugens (AIP - Temecula), Miki Habryn (NPP - San Francisco), Vince Lundgren (NPP - Loomis), Vivek B. Mohan (NPP - Livermore). That is the complete list. Writing in any other name, for this election, is an invalid vote.

2 Whether one approves or disapproves of AIP, the presence of its endorsement says very little about a candidate, as candidates appear not to be consulted. AIP in California has a long and odd story (summarized below). Suffice to say, the AIP that fielded George Wallace in 1968 long ago ceased to exist, there is no real party apparatus, it appears there are no longer nominating conventions or candidates fielded by AIP itself, and AIP amounts in the present age to a brand name associated with a Web site run by one Markham Robinson of Vacaville.

Brief history: The real AIP (backing former Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace and retired Air Force General Curtis E. LeMay) was founded in 1967 as a vehicle for Wallace's 1968 third-party Presidential run against Nixon and Humphrey, on a segregationist platform, getting 46 Electoral College votes (those of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama). This was effectively a one-shot, but embers persisted until 1992, when the last of Wallace's organization folded. However, minor far-right Constitution Party (of Colorado) then adopted AIP's electoral identity as a California "qualified" political party. In 2008, during a Constitution Party schism, a California faction (lead by Ed Noonan) split off and re-affiliated with new minor far-right America's Party (of Michigan), which now controls the AIP brand and (like AIP's other post-1968 incarnations) is on the ballot only in California.

Why California? Two reasons:

(a) As proven by a 2016 L.A. Times investigation, 3/4 of Californians who registered AIP did so in error, under the mistaken impression they were registering "independent". I.e., AIP has for decades functioned primarily as an idiot trap, not as a political party. (The Times exposé prompted a 2018 registration-form redesign, to reduce such mishaps.)

(b) California's hurdles for a "qualified" political party to remain on the ballot are so low AIP has been able to persist on the ballot since 1967, despite low vote totals and 616,584 registrations (including erroneous ones).

Specifically, California lets any already-qualified party remain if it both (1) keeps at least 1/15% (currently 13,947) of total voter registrations (currently 20,921,513) and either (2a) garners votes for one of its statewide candidates equaling 2% (about 139,000) of total votes for that office during the most recent (June 5, 2018's) gubernatorial primary election or (2b) has 0.33% (currently 69,738) of total registrations 154 days before a primary or 123 days before a Presidential general election. AIP handily clears hurdles (1) and (2b), and so remains qualified even though the actual party apparatus imploded decades back, and AIP no longer fields its own candidates, but rather endorses candidates who're already running. (Requirements to gain initial party qualification, omitted here, are more challenging.)

3Southern California News Group (SCNG) is a newspaper holding company, the SoCal subsidiary of MNG Enterprises, Inc., doing business as Digital First Media and MediaNews Group, Inc. (MNG), a Denver-based company. In March 2016, MNG, which already owned Los Angeles News Group (publisher of nine daily newspapers and Web sites) acquired right-wing publisher Freedom Communications (publisher of Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise), and since then has run all 11 newspapers as SCNG. Essentially, if you read any of these supposedly local newspapers, it's tantamount to a single, pseudo-local SCNG rag, produced and run (mostly) out of Denver: Riverside Press-Enterprise, Pasadena Star-News, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, The Facts (Redlands), The Sun (San Bernardino), Daily Breeze (Torrance), The Press-Telegram (Long Beach), Whittier Daily News, Orange County Register, Daily News (Los Angeles), San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

MNG is privately owned by secretive venture-capital hedge fund Alden Global Capital, and its management is best known for "clustering" news operations and strip-mining local reporting, i.e., laying off local staff and puppeteering supposedly local newspapers from a central location elsewhere. With its acquisition of Tribune Publishing in late May 2021, Aiden/MNG/Digital First Media is now the second-largest newspaper operator in the USA, next to Gannett Co., Inc. of McLean, Virginia, (Aiden attempted a hostile takeover of Gannett in 2019, but failed.)

Locally here in the Bay Area, MNG also owns/owned the Mercury News / East Bay Times operation, Alameda Times-Star (closed 2011), The Daily News (Palo Alto), Daily Review (Hayward; closed 2016), Marin Independent Journal, Milpitas Post, Monterey County Herald, The Reporter (Vacaville), San Mateo County Times, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Times-Herald (Vallejo), The Argus (Fremont; closed 2016), Valley Times (Pleasanton; closed 2011), San Ramon Valley Times (closed 2011), San Joaquin Herald (closed 2011), West County Times (Richmond; closed 2011), East County Times (Antioch; closed 2011), Oakland Tribune (closed 2011), Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek; closed 2011), Tri-Valley Herald (Livermore; closed 2011), and Tri-Valley Times (Pleasanton; closed 2016) — but these are editorially independent of SCNG.