Opinion: California, Just Say No…to Becoming Florida

A political veteran worries the recall election could open the door to DeSantis-style leadership—and a never-ending COVID nightmare

I have lived in Tennessee, and I have lived in Florida.

And I am begging y’all not to send me back.

Because if we recall Gavin Newsom next month, our new governor will be the same kind of Red State character racking up a body count in the names of Donald J. Trump and “freedom” that the poor unfortunate souls of Florida and Tennessee are presently trying to survive.

As the United States battles the twin pandemics of a deadly contagious virus and deadly, red-faced ignorance, California has certainly not been spared. While East Coast commentators warn that more political violence could come, we’ve already seen too much of it at anti-vax and pro-recall skirmishes in the streets of L.A. It seems a state known nationally for its liberal ideology also managed to produce more than a few January 6 rioters. But it can get so much worse. And if California Democrats lose this thing, I can damn well guarantee it will.

I’ve spent my adult life around politics as a reporter for newspapers and wire services back in Washington, D.C. and in a few different states before then. I covered three presidential campaigns and more House and Senate races than I can remember. I spent four years at the White House covering two presidents. In other words, I have seen levels of self-inflicted stupidity you simply would not believe.

And right now, California is flirting with an all-timer on that list.

Because not only is this recall a really, really stupid way to get rid of one governor and choose another—seriously?! One candidate has to get 50 percent of the vote and the other one can limp across the finish line with next to nothing?! I’m from the state of Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and even we don’t do things this dumb!—but it would also open the door to a rush of more genuinely dangerous stupidity.

Imagine the person who gets up in the morning and decides they’re going to spend a super productive day harassing cancer patients at Cedars-Sinai over wearing masks. Now imagine that jackass having a champion in the governor’s mansion. Because that is exactly what we’re talking about here.

The same day Republican front-runner Larry Elder, a right-wing radio host who wants to make California great again, drew an adoring crowd of COVID enthusiasts to their feet by pledging to repeal all vaccine and mask mandates before he’s had his first cup of tea as governor, we learned that Florida became the first state in the union to have more deaths in this COVID wave than in any that came before it.

What kind of would-be public servant sees that as something to aspire to? Probably the same kind that wants the minimum wage at zero, who says women should tell prospective employers if they’re planning on getting pregnant, and who allegedly pulls a gun on a woman to whom he’s engaged.

In any normal kind of election in this state, a fringe-y candidate like Elder wouldn’t be worth paying any attention to. But this is not a normal election, these are not normal times, and the cold hard truth is that Newsom stepped on quite a few rakes on his way to the recall.

Still, throughout this absurd new nightmare, he has done something most Republican governors have repeatedly refused to do: he has tried to keep us safe. He has tried to defeat the pandemic. He has tried to get us back to normal without filling up our ICUs. He has tried.

That is not the case in states like Florida and Tennessee and Texas, where the governors have been defiant, offering voodoo and magic beans and red hats and middle fingers as their hospitals are overrun.

Does that sound like something you want for California?

And even if you don’t believe that a new governor would make that much of a difference in fighting the pandemic, do you want to be the canary in the coal mine for the rise of stupid-ass fascism in America?

Because I can promise you that an East Coast media that ignores us even when we are literally on fucking fire will start to care about us real quick once we’ve signaled to the world that we want Trumpism leading the way out here.

And then it’s not just California falling off a cliff. Because Washington Democrats, who are scared of their own shadows on their most courageous days, will become downright frozen with fear. The remaining Biden agenda, which would rebuild our country’s infrastructure and change countless lives for the better, would be in danger if not dead as the party becomes paralyzed thinking about what will happen around the rest of the country in next year’s midterm elections if someone like Elder can win in California.

Dan Pfeiffer, a fellow California transplant who also happens to have been President Barack Obama’s communications director, foresees a similar fallout, warning that fair or not, “the coverage will be brutal.”

“I worry that it could imperil the Democratic legislative agenda much as the 2010 loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts nearly stopped Obamacare in its tracks,” Pfeiffer wrote in his Substack newsletter.

But maybe you don’t care about that. Maybe that’s not your particular disco. Maybe you don’t give a shit about Joe Biden’s agenda or the midterms.

What about going to concerts? What about going to restaurants? What about keeping your kids safe? Following science? Beating the pandemic? What about going back to the American way of life?

How about being able to go to the emergency room because you’re having a heart attack or were in a car accident?

If you ever want a shot at normal again—or as close to normal as we do out here—then you’re gonna need Gavin Newsom to finish leading us through this hell.

Because the other folks running are eager to keep us there.

Only they don’t call it hell. They call it Florida.

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