By Juliet Becker and Kea Yoshinaka, Online Feature Editor and Staff Writer
// Prolonged lockdowns, unpopular policies, and an unmasked dinner party at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic: the controversies that might cost California Gov. Gavin Newsom his political career.
The campaign to recall Newsom, initially launched by former Folsom County police officer Orinn Heatlie, began in 2019 as a result of Newsom’s immigration policies and the state’s moratorium on the death penalty. As the pandemic spread across the state, Newsom implemented strict public health measures and mandates in an effort to curb COVID-19 cases, which shifted the focus of the recall campaign to his handling of the pandemic.
California, one of the 19 states that allow recall elections, has specific rules that a campaign must follow to qualify for a state-wide recall. The main requirement is a petition, authorized by the California Secretary of State, containing signatures of registered voters.
After the campaign received the 1.495 million signatures required to qualify the recall, California Lieutenant Gov. Eleni Kounalakis set the recall for Sept. 14.
The only requirement to recall the incumbent governor is for a majority of California voters to vote in favor of a recall. If the recall motion succeeds, the candidate with the highest number of votes will then become the acting governor.
“I guess my concerns with that is you vote no, and the next person, because of the way the recall is set up, [becomes the new governor, and] there is not a minimum that the next candidate needs to receive in order to be installed as governor. Which is different than how a governor race would go, and it’s the fault of a system, not any one individual,” Ethnic Studies and Leadership teacher Katherine Walton said.
Despite dissatisfaction with the recall procedure, many California voters, regardless of their political views, believe in the legitimacy of the election because of its democratic aspects.
“Democracy works because we all participate in it and this process of a recall was done in a democratic way, following the laws of our state,” science teacher Jada Paniagua said. “And I hope that… the people in this state all exercise their democratic rights and continue to engage in elections.”
However, the possibility of an imbalanced voter turnout may lead to concern for skewed results.
“Definitely fewer [Californians] will vote [in the recall election]… than they did in the presidential election, and I think that’s one of the things that [Democrats] are worried about, that not as many people will show up to vote no for the election,” social studies teacher Bruno Morlan said. “And so it might end up being a toss-up on one of the many candidates who are throwing their name in the ring.”
According to FiveThirtyEight, an analytical website that focuses on political polls and statistics, 56.2 percent of voters want to keep Newsom in office, much less than the 61.9 percent he earned in 2018.
“Based on the polls that I saw that had come out, Gov. Newsom is worried, which is why he’s spending so much money on this campaign,” Morlan said.
This week, Newsom faces the possibility of being replaced by one of the 46 candidates running in the election. Newsom’s main opponent for the upcoming election is a Republican candidate and conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who leads polls with about 30 percent at the time of this writing.
A main point of debate as to whether Newsom should remain in office regards his policies surrounding COVID-19 prevention in schools. He urges vaccination, mask-wearing, and social distancing when possible, as well as mandating vaccines for school employees.
“I have felt protected as a teacher and supported, and a lot of that is because of state mandates. I have felt relatively safe because I have believed that safety measures were implemented and public spaces were when they needed to be,” Paniagua said.
On the other hand, if Californians elect Elder, the consequences on California residents and institutions, including schools, could be dramatic. Despite being fully vaccinated himself, Elder supports repealing vaccine and mask mandates for schools and state employees.
“I don’t believe the science suggests that young people should be vaccinated. I don’t believe the science suggests that young people should have to wear masks at school,” Elder said in an interview with Cable News Network (CNN) host Joe Johns.
Since this could affect Acalanes’ COVID-19 cases, some students who are concerned about the health of the community feel wary of Elder’s promises.
“I don’t think [taking away COVID guidelines is] beneficial for the state because you want to do as much as we can to mitigate the amount of COVID spread that’s going on in our state. And I feel like just, obviously, taking away mask and vaccine mandates is definitely not going to help. It’s going to be very harmful,” junior Peter Buchel said.
However, some community members believe that a Republican governor will not have an effect on the Acalanes community.
“The governor, even if he didn’t get recalled, would be up to run again next year, so anyone who takes his place potentially only has a year before they have to run as well, so I’m not really sure what would happen,” librarian Barbara Burkhalter said.
In an effort to get Acalanes students more politically active, all students have the opportunity to register and vote specifically through the election simulation. This event directly models the California election, complete with the same timeline and list of candidates. While the election simulation typically models the presidential election, this year’s recall election is an opportunity for students to gain additional experience voting.
“We have never run [a recall simulation], and we’ve been running the simulation for four [elections] now and it’s been pretty standard elections up until now, so it’s kind of exciting to have a special one pop up and have to go through that process,” Burkhalter said.
Although voting may be intimidating for many newly-registered 18 year-olds, Burkhalter believes that it is important to hold such simulated elections.
“It’s getting students to recognize that it takes a little work to be involved civically but it’s important because that’s how democracy works, we all do our part in it. And on another level, we hope to kind of demystify the voting process,” Burkhalter said.
Students and teachers alike feel very strongly about convincing eligible voters to participate in their governmental elections.
“It’s important to vote for the future in order to create a more inclusive and sustainable society, and that can only happen when the younger generations take the initiative to vote,” Government Club President and senior Cole Regan said.