On September 14th voters will answer the question that could change the direction of the Golden State: Should we recall Governor Gavin Newsom? For those of us who rent housing the answer is NO. This governor has been there for us. He signed legislation to extend rent control throughout the state and wrangled the legislature to send to his desk not only one eviction moratorium but three of them. Whatever one thinks of masks and mandates it seems clear that the governor has put public health at the forefront of the state’s response to the pandemic. In my book that alone is a ground to oppose a recall.
However it is not enough to simply oppose a recall. A relatively small number of disaffected voters and special-interest backers have set the agenda for a state which is home to forty million residents. We voters must act affirmatively to defeat this recall by casting a NO vote. So let’s look at the only two questions on the special election ballot.
Question #1: Do You Want to Recall Governor Newsom?
I want to suggest a few reasons why anyone who rents housing should cast a NO vote on September 14th.
Governor Newsom has prioritized housing stability during the pandemic. In March of 2020 the governor issued an executive order to impose a statewide moratorium on residential and commercial evictions for non-payment of rent. This is a landmark step that may also be the first such statewide emergency tenant protection arising from the pandemic. Most states offered no protection at all.
Governor Newsom pressed the legislature to continue to extend tenant protections. Starting with AB 3088 in August of 2020 and SB 91 in February the state twice extended the moratorium on eviction for nonpayment amid continued uncertainty about the pandemic. So long as a COVID-affected household pays a minimum 25% of the total rent due by September of 2021 occupants will stay housed. And they wil remain housed after the pandemic because the rent owed can be converted by the landlord to long-term debt. (Read more about current eviction protections in the city’s eviction moratorium update.)
California made it easier to qualify for moratorium protection than did our city. Where Beverly Hills requires tenants to submit financial documentation to the landlord to qualify for rent forbearance, Sacramento requires a self-affirmation of COVID-related hardship and no documentation to the landlord. That distinction is important: under our local moratorium the landlord can deny a tenant rent forbearance whereas under the state moratorium the landlord cannot. Simply filing the necessary form — which the state requires the landlord to provide — is sufficient. (Read more about the difference between local and state moratoriums.)
Governor Newsom pressed the legislature to expand rent relief to cover 100% of rent owed. The Rental Housing Recovery Act (AB 832) both extended the state moratorium through September and expanded COVID–19 economic support to renting households that experience financial hardship related to COVID–19. This $5.2 billion program will help low-income renters pay 100% of back-rent and an additional $2 billion for past-due utility bills. The program is means-tested (a household must earn less than 80% of area median income) and prioritizes the lowest-income households for assistance.
Governor Newsom pressed the legislature to pass a raft of additional tenant protections. These are some of the fine-print amendments to state statutes that made a BIG difference to tenants in California!
- The notice period for pay-or-quit was extended from 3 to 15 days to allow tenants time to qualify for moratorium protection.
- Landlords were required to provide tenants-rights disclosures and the necessary hardship declaration forms to tenants and a landlord who did not meet that obligation could not evict the tenant for nonpayment at all.
- Public disclosure of nonpayment eviction cases filed between March of 2020 and January of 2021 was limited which meant that tenants would not find their ability to rent in the future compromised due to COVID–19 hardship.
- Protection against just-cause eviction where a tenant can demonstrate that the just-cause eviction was an eviction for nonpayment by another name.
Governor Newsom is sending cash to needy households. Starting TODAY the Golden State Stimulus program will alleviate some of the economic harm suffered by lower-income households during the pandemic. These households likely did not see any upside from the post-pandemic recovery while affluent households saw double-digit gains on investments simply for sitting on stocks. The $4 billion program will send $500 to families to supplement an earlier round of payments and $600-$1,000 to households earning up to $75,000 annually. Read more at the Franchise Tax Board. Sure it’s a recall-year payoff! But those households need it.
California was there for us when federal eviction protections wobbled and collapsed. Pity the renting households in the south and midwest who had to rely on the federal moratorium. It already expired once and now the Supreme Court has struck-down the federal moratorium entirely. No COVID-affected tenant in California has had to face the uncertainty and upheaval that more than 75% of renting Americans have had to face.
Finally, Newsom was an activist governor in the face of the pandemic challenges. Our state emergency order came fast and early. Subsequent executive orders concerning child care, food insecurity and much more flowed near-daily from the governor’s office. But it has not all been roses. The state unemployment assistance was generous but fraud appears to have permeated the program. State rent relief was expansive but the state has been slow in getting relief to tenants.
Were I to even think about saying yes to a recall I’d have to face the next question….
Question 2: If the Governor is Recalled, Who Do You Want to Replace Him?
The absurdity of the recall is only underscored by question #2 on the ballot: Who should replace Newsom? This being California voters have forty-six (!) relatively obscure candidates to choose from. They include elected representatives, real estate developers and even farmers. But most candidates are described imprecisely as entertainer, entrepreneur or the generic “businessman.” Few have any name recognition at all and fewer have the experience that is necessary to run a big state.
Two of the candidates on the ballot are elected representatives, though, and they are seeing this as a golden opportunity to trade up to the executive suite. Kevin Kiley is the 35-year old Republican Assemblymember from Rocklin, California. Because Republicans have been shut out of power in Sacramento, the recall offers a one-shot chance for this assemblyman. Is a congressional representative from a city of 50,000 people northeast of Sacramento sufficiently experienced to take the reins of the nation’s most populous state?
The other elected representative is Ted Gaines, who is a registered Republican representing Board of Equalization district 1. The district comprises the vast, and vastly conservative, interior of the state. But that’s not the issue: this fairly obscure elected tax commission oversees certain aspects of taxation including the property tax, alcoholic beverage tax, and the tax on Insurers. But it has a checkered history. Prior to Gaines’s service on the Board it had been stripped of most powers back in 2017 after the state launched a criminal investigation into boardmembers’ misuse of public funds and alleged malfeasance related to political contributions. Not a high-profile stepping stone to the governor’s office.
Then there are the entertainers. Remember Angelyne? She’s that perennial fringe political candidate who actually looks like a promising prospect in the company of some of the other dubious candidates.
However a few candidates are leading the field. Kevin Faulconer is the former mayor of San Diego and is running on his experience in office to advance a moderate Republican agenda. John Cox is another San Diego fixture who in 2018 ran for governor but subsequently turned on his Republicans allies. He now self-identifies as an “outsider” and says he will “CUT TAXES and SHAKE UP SACRAMENTO.” Conservative radio personalty Larry Elder brings to the race a far-right agenda but also political baggage like allegations of drug abuse, intimidation and firearm impropriety.
Less entertaining is the partisan nature of the contest to replace the governor. Of the 46 candidates who stated a party preference fully two-thirds are Republicans. This in a state where Republicans are only 24% of registered voters (down by nearly half in twenty years!) and Republicans stand little chance statewide of winning office as dog-catcher. For would-be Republican governors this recall is like a Thanksgiving Day door-buster sale at Best Buy. Nearly 150 candidates pulled papers to run!
If you do not support the recall of Governor Newsom it is time to put some effort behind your conviction. Mark your recall ballot with a NO vote and you can forget about the second question unless a candidate catches your eye. For my part I’m not even going to pull the metaphorical lever for Angelyne. I like her on billboards but I don’t need her wisdom in the executive suite.