Why March is looking bad for Gavin Newsom

POLITICS: Why March is looking bad for Gavin Newsom



Restaurants, recalls and resistance are giving California Gov. Gavin Newsom one of the worst months of his political career.

California held its presidential primary election on Super Tuesday, March 5, but it was far from super for the state’s ambitious governor.

Voters showed more than a little resistance to passing the ballot measure Newsom had branded with his name and image in TV ads for which he had raised $20 million.

Given the razor-close outcome, what was really shocking was the amount spent to oppose the governor’s effort: nothing at all.

Many of Newsom’s real problems stem from the fact that he may well be courting national — and not California — voters as he runs a shadow campaign for the presidency. JOHN G MABANGLO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Proposition 1, a $6.38 billion bond measure in a state that already has $80 billion in bond debt and a $73 billion budget deficit, was the only state measure on the primary ballot this month.

That’s because Newsom pressed the legislature to defer all other bonds and proposals until November to give Proposition 1 the spotlight, and even to specially designate it as “Proposition 1” instead of the next number in sequence from the previous election.

Newsom promised voters that Prop. 1 would “fix our broken mental health system and provide those living on our streets and suffering from substance abuse the care they need.” 

Californians list homelessness as one of their top concerns in every poll, but on election night, Proposition 1 led with just 50.2%, too close to call.

As California headed into the weekend following the election, Prop. 1’s fate remained undecided with an estimated 2.5 million unprocessed ballots yet to be counted.

A week past Election Day, with more than 1.4 million ballots still to count, the measure clung to a 40,000 vote lead and opponents conceded it was likely to pass, if barely.

Why was it so close?

The explanation, according to Mark Baldassare, president, CEO and survey director of the Public Policy Institute of California: “This campaign centered around the governor, and the governor’s approval rating was 48% in our poll.”

Newsom is trying to raise the minimum wage for California restaurant workers, but has devised an odd carve-out for restaurants such as Panera, that serve certain bread products. AP

The good news for Newsom is that he has the opportunity to refill his ballot measure committee’s pockets in plenty of time for the November election.

The bad news is that the opportunity stems from another attempt to recall him from office.

On Feb. 26, the conservative group Rescue California served Newsom’s office with a fresh set of recall papers.

Campaign director Anne Hyde Dunsmore, a longtime political fundraiser and consultant, said Newsom has “abandoned the state to advance his presidential ambitions, leaving behind a $73 billion budget deficit and a public safety, immigration and education crisis.”

California may be The Golden State, but things are looking far from bright for Newsom who is now facing another recall effort. pabrady63 – stock.adobe.com

As if on cue, Newsom responded on X/Twitter, “Trump Republicans are launching another wasteful recall campaign to distract us from the existential fight for democracy and reproductive freedom. We will defeat them.”

That’s the message Newsom used to raise more than $70 million to fight off the last recall attempt in 2021.

Fundraising was probably aided by the governor’s absolute power over every business in the state under his declaration of emergency during the COVID pandemic.

Proponents of the 2021 recall raised $8 million.

Their effort was helped by outrage over pictures of Newsom partying with lobbyists at the lavishly expensive French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley in November 2020, right after he ordered Californians to stay home and avoid gathering with family and friends for Thanksgiving.

Newsom spent $70 million to fight off the last recall, which was partially prompted by images of him dining at Napa Valley’s fancy French Laundry restaurant during the height of COVID restrictions. Courtesy FOX 11

Now the recall proponents may benefit from a new restaurant scandal.

Citing “people familiar with the matter,” Bloomberg News reported in late February that Newsom pushed for an oddly specific carve-out in a law he signed last September — and goes into effect on April 1 — which requires fast food restaurants to pay a minimum wage of $20 per hour.

The law also requires California to create a government “Fast Food Council” to regulate wages, hours and working conditions.

But the law exempts fast food restaurants that make and sell bread as a stand-alone menu item, if they were already doing so by Sept. 15, 2023.

That exactly describes the two dozen Panera Bread franchises owned by one of Newsom’s oldest friends and major campaign donors, billionaire Greg Flynn.

Billionaire Greg Flynn is a Newsom donor who also happens to own numerous Panera franchises. Flynn Holdings

Newsom, who did not comment for the Bloomberg article, later insisted that Panera is not exempt, and Flynn said he’d raise the minimum wage in his restaurants to $20 regardless.

But the story isn’t going away.

After no one in the government would admit to authoring the carve-out provision, KCRA TV’s Ashley Zavala reported that final negotiations over the bill were conducted last summer by the powerful Service Employees International Union.

The group demanded the other parties at the table ― restaurant industry corporations and trade associations ― to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Newsom says he never talked to Flynn about the issue, but Republicans in the legislature are asking for the release of all documents related to the carve-out under the state’s Public Records Act.

Pay-to-play is nothing new in California, and it’s often legal as long as the campaign finance forms are filled out correctly.

Still, it’s another sign that Newsom’s sheen as a national candidate is looking more like an oily residue.

Susan Shelley is a columnist and editorial writer for the Southern California News Group and VP of Communications for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. On X: @Susan_Shelley





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