Want a good chuckle? You usually have to wait four years between the exhibitions put on by flocks of East Coast pundits who land in California each presidential election year.
But with the September recall election that unsuccessfully targeted Gov. Gavin Newsom as a catalyst, this bunch will begin arriving here just about the time the first winter blizzards hit their home roosts. If you think that’s coincidence, guess again.
This has been happening for at least 50 years, with past participants including journalistic and political legends like David Broder, James Reston, George Will, Karl Rove and many more.
Rove, a longtime Republican campaign manager who dabbles in punditry, was a classic example of someone parachuting into California and getting things all wrong. He wrote in 2004, “If you’re a Republican and you play in California, all kinds of things are possible.” Mostly losing, both money and votes. On Rove’s advice, ex-President George W. Bush spent $18 million here that year only to lose handily to Democrat John Kerry. Wasting that money in solidly Democratic California almost cost Bush the White House in what would have been a huge upset.
Then there was the New York Times, which in a boldface headline before the 2003 recall election called it “loco.” And yet…it made Arnold Schwarzenegger a national political force for almost 10 years.
Things have been little different this year. The anti-Newsom recall, of course, attracted its share of Eastern commentary. The New Yorker magazine, in its Sept. 10 backgrounder on that election, tried to portray the backdrop to the vote. It described “commercial airliners spraying retardant” on wildfires. Sorry, folks, there wasn’t a Delta or Southwest flight in sight as superscoopers (hollowed out DC-10s) dropped planeloads of water (but little retardant) on the blazes.
The same story said recall elections and initiatives here were created in 1911 to “curtail rampant corruption (from) railroad companies and labor unions…” In fact, labor unions in the early 1900s were persecuted in California, and barely survived. Actual culprits of the time, in addition to railroads, were the big banks.
The New Yorker, like some others it aped in this story, said the 2003 recall was “fueled by anger over the California electricity crisis of 2000-2001.” Actually, that recall – first suggested in this column on Dec. 2, 2002 – aimed to halt corruption by then-Gov. Gray Davis, who frequently linked state spending on needed projects to political donations from local businesses and others benefiting from the projects.
It said the success of the petition drive that placed the Newsom recall on the ballot was due largely to contributions from Silicon Valley venture capitalists. There were a few of those, but any analysis that does not mention the court decision allowing four more months than usual for gathering signatures misses a key reason this recall went so much farther than most such attempts.
So what can we expect from the flood of punditry bound to see print and the national cable TV airwaves this winter? For one thing, expect a buildup for some of the unsuccessful, but ever persistent, Republicans who ran as replacement candidates for governor in September. There will likely be profiles of former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who excited almost no one last summer even if he did make interesting policy suggestions like a huge middle-class tax cut, and YouTube blogger Kevin Paffrath, who gained some recognition as the leading Democrat in the replacement army.
Expect the national corps also to get interview time with both Newsom and the likes of replacement leader Larry Elder, neither of whom likes to be interviewed often by California’s own pundits.
There will be predictions of a tough race for appointed Democratic U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, who most likely will coast to a six-year term of his own in the seat once filled by Vice President Kamala Harris.
And there will be talk of a mass desertion from Democratic ranks by Latino voters (there will likely be some attrition, but no mass movement).
In all, it will be much ado about very little, but at least it will get some journalists out of that deep winter snow they so detest.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com.