Monday, January 11, 2021







          This was supposed to be a year of political positioning in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom figured to use much of his time fundraising, devising platform planks and doing opposition research on possible opponents for his 2022 reelection campaign. He plainly hoped this would boost him into a presidential campaign two years later.


          A few months ago, it also seemed Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris would begin spending most of her time in California, not Washington, D.C., while raising reelection money, sizing up possible challengers and devising new issues positions. Like most California senators, she would need to reintroduce herself to California voters because she had spent the bulk of her time in the national capital for six years.


          A few things changed all that: The coronavirus plague forced Newsom into actions unlike those of any other modern governor. That alienated a sizeable number of Californians and set him up for a highly possible recall election later this year.


          Then Harris was elected vice president, prompting Newsom to make several more unusual moves. He’s the first governor in 30 years to appoint a U.S. senator. And he might get to appoint another. He’s named a new California secretary of state and will shortly choose an attorney general to replace Xavier Becerra, due to join President-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet.


          It’s the most politically unique non-election year California has ever seen. The changes are forcing potential candidates to make their moves earlier than ever. As one result – if vaccinations allow it – the state soon may be overrun with barnstorming politicians staging rallies and pressing flesh with millions of voters far earlier than anyone anticipated.


          Knowing the fate of ex-Gov. Gray Davis in his 2003 recall election, Newsom must take the current drive against him seriously. What’s more, he would have ample opportunity to turn the recall to his advantage in a fall special election, since this is essentially the work of anti-masking followers of outgoing President Donald Trump, folks who still refuse to take COVID-19 seriously. Newsom could get a chance to rally the strong corps of anti-Trump voters in California and crush both the recall and resistance to his anti-virus moves.


For no one who wants eventually to be governor can stay out of this election if it happens, like it or not. Any who sit out would be essentially eliminated from future consideration if Newsom is recalled. That’s why Republican ex-Mayor Kevin Faulconer of San Diego wasted little time getting in.


          Like other recall elections, this one would have a vote on whether to dump Newsom; if the yes side wins on that, the counting then moves on to a list of potential replacements. So Newsom may get an early opportunity for knockout blows to both Faulconer and his once-defeated 2018 GOP rival, San Diego County businessman John Cox, a very likely recall entrant.


          Meanwhile, both new Newsom appointees, soon-to-be U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and his replacement as secretary of state, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego, will face significant challengers. Appointed senators don’t usually enjoy the advantages of incumbents who have gone before the voters previously. Just ask Georgia’s Kelly Loeffler.


          So Padilla, celebrated for his rags-to-riches story, might face the moderate Burbank-area Congressman Adam Schiff or Silicon Valley’s leftist Rep. Ro Khanna, in the June 2022 primary and again later in a fall runoff election. Schiff has built a massive war chest since he won acclaim among Democrats for his handling of the early-2020 impeachment of Trump. Khanna, meanwhile, has been a darling of the Democratic left since ousting eight-term incumbent Mike Honda in 2016.


          Weber will also face competition, likely from at least one and possibly two of her former legislative colleagues. In both cases, the emerging challengers have a full year to work out how best to target Newsom’s appointees. The attorney general appointee also will face major opposition.


          The bottom line: California has never seen a political year quite like what this one promises to be. The odds are Newsom will survive the year and be better positioned for next year than he otherwise might have been. But things could prove more difficult for his high-level appointees. Stay tuned.


     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

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