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California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a get-out-the-vote event

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks during a get-out-the-vote event in San Francisco on Tuesday, September 14, 2021. (Photo: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images)

Newsom Urged to Deliver on Climate, Single-Payer as California Voters Defeat Recall

"Newsom's victory belongs to the environmental activists and constituents who delivered their support when it mattered most," Alexandra Nagy, California director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. "Newsom must return that support to Californians in the midst of this climate crisis."

Jake Johnson

California voters on Tuesday roundly defeated an effort to recall Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose ouster likely would have resulted in right-wing radio host Larry Elder—a longtime climate denier who recently said the ideal minimum wage is $0—becoming the leader of the most populous state in the U.S.

Faced with two ballot questions—whether Newsom should be recalled and who should replace him—California voters overwhelmingly voted no on the first, rendering the second meaningless.

"Newsom has been completely silent on single-payer. A lot of us are really gunning to see some action on his part."
—Brandon Harami, California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus

With 67% of precincts reporting, just 35% of California voters cast ballots in favor of the Republican-led recall effort, according to the New York Times' tally. The Associated Press called the contest in Newsom's favor just before midnight, and Elder—who was baselessly claiming fraud before the results were released—conceded defeat at his election night party at the Costa Mesa Hilton.

"I'm humbled and grateful to the millions and millions of Californians that exercised their fundamental right to vote and express themselves so overwhelmingly by rejecting the division, by rejecting the cynicism, rejecting so much of the negativity that's defined our politics in this country over the course of so many years," Newsom said late Tuesday.

"It appears that we are enjoying an overwhelmingly 'no' vote tonight here in the state of California, but 'no' is not the only thing that was expressed tonight," the governor told reporters. "We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic. We said yes to people's right to vote without fear of fake fraud and voter suppression. We said yes to women's fundamental constitutional right to decide for herself what she does with her body, her faith, her future. We said yes to diversity."

Newsom's campaign to defeat the recall effort—which was launched after proponents gathered more than 1.5 million signatures—drew support from climate activists, healthcare unions, prominent progressive lawmakers, and others appalled by the prospect of Elder becoming governor of the key state and the world's fifth-largest economy.

"Nurses are relieved and encouraged that the people of California have voted to #StopTheRepublicanRecall," the California Nurses Association tweeted. "Now, to continue the critical work of protecting our communities from the spread of Covid-19."

Having overwhelmingly trounced the recall attempt, those who helped keep Newsom in power are demanding that he deliver bold action in exchange.

"Governor Newsom's victory belongs to the environmental activists and constituents who delivered their support when it mattered most," Alexandra Nagy, California director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. "Newsom must return that support to Californians in the midst of this climate crisis."

"Newsom has taken small but encouraging steps to phase out fracking—without which he surely would not have enjoyed the critical support of so many Californians who are demanding real climate action. But the crisis is deepening faster than Newsom is acting," Nagy continued. In April, as Common Dreams reported, Newsom moved to ban new fracking permits in California by 2024—a "half-measure" in the eyes of Nagy and other climate activists.

"Wildfires made worse and droughts lengthened by a warming planet point to one obvious solution: stop new fossil fuel permits, phase out fossil fuels immediately, and institute 2,500-foot buffers between drill operations and community sites," Nagy added Tuesday. "Governor Newsom's fight isn't over because our fight isn't over."

On top of environmentalists' demands, Kaiser Health News reported earlier this week that "leaders of California's single-payer movement will want their due" for helping Newsom beat back the recall effort. During his 2018 run for governor, Newsom campaigned on the vow to replace California's "inefficient and wasteful" for-profit health insurance system with a single-payer program—but the governor has yet to deliver, and some have accused him of abandoning his promise even amid a deadly pandemic that has shined additional light on the nation's longstanding healthcare crises.

California State Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) is expected to reintroduce his single-payer legislation in the coming months.

Brandon Harami, Bay Area vice chair of the California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus and an opponent of the recall, told Kaiser Health News that Newsom—who is up for reelection next year—"is an establishment candidate, and we as Democrats aren't shy about ripping the endorsement out from under someone who doesn't share our values."

"Newsom has been completely silent on single-payer," said Harami. "A lot of us are really gunning to see some action on his part."

Amar Shergill, chair of the California Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus, said in an interview with CalMatters on Tuesday that he doesn't believe "the governor or his advisor circle are so naive as to think that a big win and the defeat of the recall election is going to result in smooth sailing through the next election." Shergill indicated that he and other progressives intend to ramp up pressure on the governor to "hold fast to his promise" to advance a single-payer program.

"You ignore the progressive movement at your own peril," Shergill added.

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