Last Call For California's Recall | Crooked Media
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September 13, 2021
What A Day
Last Call For California's Recall

In This Episode

  • The California recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom wraps up today. Newsom campaigned with President Biden, yesterday, and if he is booted from the Governor’s mansion, polls show he is most likely to be replaced with conservative talk show host Larry Elder. KQED’s political correspondent Marisa Lagos joins us to get a status report on where things stand.
  • And in headlines: one million Afghan children are at risk of starvation and death, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken testified before Congress about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the first trial associated with the Varsity Blues scandal kicked off.





Gideon Resnick: It’s Tuesday, September 14th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, where we missed the Met Gala because we fell down 100 times trying to put our outfits on.


Gideon Resnick: Let me just say a meat suit, not as easy as it looks. People in my neighborhood had a lot of questions and they did not get the answers they were looking for.


Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show, the U.N. warns of a potential humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Plus, Facebook reportedly has a list of people it protects from being moderated.


Gideon Resnick: Ah, on the up and up, as always. But first, today is D-Day for California Governor Gavin Newsom. He faces a recall election that was launched by opponents who blamed him for a bunch of things: his response to the pandemic, immigration, crime—basically anything they could think of.


Josie Duffy Rice: During a campaign push yesterday, he toured the state with President Biden to survey the damage caused by wildfires. And while they were at it, Biden took several opportunities to praise Newsom.


[clip of President Biden] And the governor’s lead led this state with poise and strong leadership. He’s been an innovator and items for long-term solutions, and he and I are both optimistic.


Gideon Resnick: I guess everybody is Gavin’s best friend for this final week. So for Newsom to get booted from the governor’s mansion, there just needs to be a simple majority that votes in favor of a recall. And if he’s replaced, the winner would be whoever got the most votes, no matter how small that overall share is. It is truly a crazy, crazy process. We’re talking about the possibility of a person earning a tiny percentage of the overall vote share becoming the governor of the country’s most populous state. Now, polls right now say that if that happens, it is most likely to be conservative talk show host Larry Elder. And should Elder or another Republican win, it would have massive political implications for the state and the country overall.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s frankly just kind of a mess, right? So we wanted to get a status report on where things stand. We have with us Marisa Lagos, politics correspondent at the Bay Area NPR station KQED, and co-host of the podcast, Political Breakdown. Welcome to What A Day.


Marisa Lagos: I’m super excited to be here.


Josie Duffy Rice: So a big question about the recall results hinges on motivation. Registered Democrats in California outnumber Republicans by almost two to one. But even just a few weeks ago, there were questions about whether those left-leaning voters really cared enough to cast a ballot. So what does it look like right now?


Marisa Lagos: It’s looking a lot better for Newsom than it was, say, a month ago. I mean, my theory—because I came back from vacation when all these polls came out in early August—I think everyone was on vacation in July. They had just like checked out after the past year and a half. If you recall, we weren’t even really talking about Delta Varian in like, early July. So I think, you know, I think in a weird way, those polls showing this low interest by Democrats actually helped the governor because it really lit a fire under not just his campaign, but also all these advocates and other grassroots groups in California. And so we’ve had just like several, probably three or four polls, that essentially say show the same thing over the past few weeks, which is close to 60% support for Gavin Newsom keeping his office. So a “no” on the recall. There’s just a ceiling for Republicans here. And it seems like Democrats got the message and that they are coming out to vote.


Gideon Resnick: And I want to talk about what the Republican messaging has been given the conditions that you’re talking about. So Trump told Newsmax that the election is, quote, “probably rigged.” That was last week. Already getting the ball rolling on this idea of a steal, which is like, you know, a theme we’re seeing a lot of these elections. Except, meanwhile, the state’s own Republican Party in California is trying to tell people to trust the process that’s happening there. So how is that disconnect affected the willingness of conservative voters to cast a ballot? Is there some disconnect happening?


Marisa Lagos: Yeah, man. I mean, I think honestly, Jessica Millan Patterson, the head of the GOP here, might have the hardest job in show biz because she’s constantly having to deal with this. I think it’s a little early to totally know because what we have seen in recent years is this weird pattern in California, where it used to be only conservative voters voted early by mail. Now, that’s kind of flipped and progressives seem to be embracing that more. So I do think we’re expecting kind of a surge of Republicans on Election Day today, actually like coming to the polls physically or dropping off their ballots. Folks who track this stuff say that it’s not as big of a surge from the right as we might have expected. But it does seem like that message, which, you know, as usual, a chicken or egg, like did Trump start it, did Fox News start it, hard to tell who said it first—but this is this feedback loop that’s happening: don’t trust it. I think there’s a lot of concern among Republicans that it is leading to just this like, shrug, I’ll just stay home, because it’s not going to matter anyway.


Gideon Resnick: What are some of the big things that Democrats stand to lose at the state and national levels if Newsom does get bumped from office?


Marisa Lagos: I mean, in addition, obviously, to judges and parole decisions and appointments internally, a lot of people are kind of like wringing their hands on the left, saying if Dianne Feinstein were to step down—which I don’t think she would do, I don’t know if she would even do if Newsome survives because she hasn’t yet—but, you know, she’s approaching 90. What if something happened to her? That could flip the balance of power of the US Senate. I mean, that’s a few steps away from actually happening, but I think it’s a real threat and sort of one of the most tangible things that you could actually do if you, you know, take the governorship as a Republican. I mean, beyond that, practically, Larry Elder, who it looks like would win if Newsom’s recalled, has promised day-one to eliminate all the COIVD mandates and restrictions that Newsom has, right? We are doing far better with this virus than most of the nation. We have very high vaccination rates. That has become the centerpiece of this campaign. But I should also note, though, that this would be a very-short lived governor, no matter what, because we have a regularly scheduled governor’s election next November. So whoever wins, whether it’s Newsom or one of these candidates, they’re going to have to run again next fall. So I think the question is for Newsom, assuming he survives, how strong does he look? Does he get a challenge from the left? I mean, I think there’s a lot of sort of bigger questions about the political implications that we won’t know the answers to until we see the numbers.


Josie Duffy Rice: The Delta question, really. Maybe this is the best timing for him, because we’re now at this point where if you look at the map, California looks pretty good compared to like, where I am in Georgia. And Newsom obviously isn’t the only governor facing backlash for these measures or different kinds of health mandates, but he may be unique in that his potential survival seems to be thanks to those very mandates as well.


Marisa Lagos: I mean, it’s also important to note, like this recall petition was filed before COVID was a thing, right? So if you look at the language, it’s not about COVID-19 mandates, it’s about illegal immigration, which obviously a governor has very little control over. It’s about crime and criminal justice reform, which are not catching fire with voters as an issue, even though people are worried about, like crime increasing. I actually think it’s really fascinating because both sides have dug into this pandemic issue, and I think it’s a little bit of a preview for next year’s midterms where like instead of running from this, Democrats are like: yeah, he shut it down and it was the right thing, and here here’s why. This is where the parties are kind of positioning themselves.


Gideon Resnick: Right. And what do you think the rest of a Newsom term could look like? Like what is he sort of learned about governing from any of this, if anything at all?


Marisa Lagos: That’s a good question. Do politicians learn things? I don’t know.


Gideon Resnick: I don’t know. [laughs]


Marisa Lagos: I’m not sure. [laughs] I mean, I’ve been covering this guy since he was mayor. And I think a lot of his shortcomings are the same ones I saw 15 years ago when he was far younger. But, you know, I do think the one sort of positive that could come out of this for Newsom, assuming he looks strong and there’s not like a sort of progressive challenge from the left next year that’s credible, there was a lot of frustration among lawmakers and the kind of Democratic establishment, I think, during the pandemic that they didn’t feel like they were treated as a partner, that Newsom really did do a lot of this by executive order and authority. I think this has had a kind of coalescing effect for Democrats here. I mean, we saw, you know, him in Harris together. And it’s funny because she introduced Gavin Newsom as “my dear friend Gavin” and I’m like, uh, you guys don’t even like each other. Like, I’ve been covering them forever. They’re kind of like frenemies, you know, as people are, who are, like, always competing for the same seats.


Gideon Resnick: Right.


Marisa Lagos: But, you know, when you have an opponent to like focus on it really like makes you all come together. So I think that might be the biggest thing that he might just have some, like, goodwill from this legislature to potentially get some stuff done. But, yeah, I mean, he’s going to have to make the case again in a year. And none of the problems that he campaigned on fixing, have been fixed. I don’t think any one governor could fix most of them. But like, I think people want to see progress on that stuff, so that is going to be the question is like, can he, you know, do some things around, especially fires and homelessness—it’s just such a big sort of like, visceral thing when you’re sitting here in California.


Josie Duffy Rice: So something that we talked about a little bit earlier and that you mentioned is the criticism about how these recalls come about and how they operate. And it’s been called, I’ve seen it called anti-democratic time after time again, I think in the past few weeks, right? What does this look like in the future? Right? Like is this, if you’re a California governor or is it just frequent recall pushes your sort of entire, you know, time in office from this point forward? Or is there real momentum to reform the California recall system?


Marisa Lagos: Well, there’s certainly, at least in this moment in time, seems to be a lot of support. We saw a UC Berkeley poll come out just this week that essentially showed that while, like voters overwhelmingly in California like direct democracy, they don’t want to give up their recall authority, they don’t want to give up their initiative authority—which is the other thing we all end up talking about, like when we have our crazy 25 initiative ballots.


Gideon Resnick: Right. Right, right.


Marisa Lagos: But, they do seem to be very open to the idea of changing some of the kind of nitty gritty. So we mentioned at the top that, like theoretically, millions of people could vote to keep Newsom in office and a very small fraction of that could pick his replacement, right? So that was the biggest thing, this idea that instead of having just like a two question ballot, that you would have an actual runoff between two top candidates after a recall was approved. But I mean, first of all, it’d have to go before voters. And second of all, like, those campaigns are super expensive, so who’s going to back that? Like who’s the good government group that wants to spend that money and political capital and what it would bring you politically if you’re, you know, the elected official who decides that that is their issue? Like, is that, is that going to speak to people enough to really make it worthwhile? I don’t know.


Gideon Resnick: Lastly, the polls close tonight. We were talking about this a little bit earlier, but what is the timeline for when we might see the final outcome here?


Marisa Lagos: I think we’re going to have a pretty good sense tonight—at the risk of making predictions, which we all promised not to do after 2020—but unless it’s very close, we will probably have a good sense of it tonight, if not, I think in the coming days for sure. But I will say again, like, I don’t think we should be writing the postscript on this as political journalists until we know the final numbers, because it is possible that it could be closer or further apart, even if, even if the outcome is clear, like the actual details of it, I think it’s going to take a few weeks to kind of sort out.


Gideon Resnick: Right. This has been wonderful. Marisa Largos is a correspondent for KQED, California Politics and Government Desk and the co-host of the podcast Political Breakdown. Thank you so much for being with us today and being so generous with your time.


Marisa Lagos: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.


Josie Duffy Rice: And remember that if you are a voter in California and have yet to cast a ballot, do it now. Now, right now. Go do it right now. Do it in person, or if you’re mailing it in, make sure it’s in the mailbox today, so it’s got today’s postmark on it. And that’s the latest for now.


Gideon Resnick: It is Tuesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about the perils of thinking differently. Nicki Minaj revealed herself to be unvaccinated yesterday—yes, she did—explaining her absence from this year’s Met Gala where vaccines are required, and one of her primary reservations seems to be tied to a problem with her cousin’s friend’s balls. So after tweeting to her 20 plus million followers that she won’t get the shot until, quote, “she has done enough research” end quote, Nicki dropped an absolute bomb in the timeline with this post, quote “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine because his friend got it and became impotent. His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it and make sure you’re comfortable with your decision, not bullied.” Nicki went on to say she will probably get vaccinated at some point so that she can go on tour, by which point her research will presumably have concluded. But Josie, what was your take on this extremely captivating saga?


Josie Duffy Rice: Honestly, there’s so much here. I want to know about the marriage. I want to know, I really need a lot of information, but I got to say that I’m just very grateful I don’t know anything about my cousin’s friend’s testicles. Nothing about them. Not a single one.


Gideon Resnick: That’s bizarre because most people have that knowledge sort of firsthand for situations exactly like this.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s true. I’m a, I’m an outlier.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Whenever anybody is saying they’re conducting research, again I really want like a behind the scenes, like those like B rolls of people in like old things about hacking where it would show them like on the computer, sort of like voraciously typing—like I need to see some behind the scenes shots of like what websites Nikki’s going to, how this research is taking place. I want to know more.


Josie Duffy Rice: Honestly, I feel like the only winner in the situation is actually the cousin’s friend who got out of a marriage that was not going to be working for him long term. So win-win, or he wins-everybody else loses, and he’s vaccinated. So, you know.


Gideon Resnick: Right.


Josie Duffy Rice: Could be worse for him.


Gideon Resnick: He has protection from the virus, which the vaccines offered you, contrary to what this thread may have been suggesting. And he also may have dodged a potential bullet there. And just like that, we have checked our temps. If you find out who this cousin is or you somehow have more research, definitely let us know. We’ll be back after Some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: One million Afghan children are at risk of starvation and death and millions of Afghans could run out of food in the coming months. Top United Nations officials warned of such horrendous circumstances during a high-level U.N. conference in Geneva yesterday. Afghanistan, under the new Taliban regime is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis after the nation’s poverty rate has risen, cross-border trade has paused, many local businesses have been closed, and food prices have soared. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that one in three Afghans do not know where they will get their next meal, and went on to say this:


[clip UN Sec. Gen. Guterres] The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline. After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps the most perilous hour.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and more than one billion dollars in aid pledges were made at the convention. However, the international community is still grappling with what their foreign relations with the Taliban will actually look like, given the organization’s history of human rights abuses and violence.


Josie Duffy Rice: Just devastating. I feel like that’s what we say every time we talk about Afghanistan, but it’s really just devastating for the Afghan people. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken testified before Congress yesterday about the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. This was the first time he’s been heard by Congress since the Taliban takeover and the first Biden administration official to publicly speak out about how the withdrawal unfolded. Blinken ultimately defended the Biden administration’s decision, blaming the Trump administration for not providing a plan after making the initial decision to withdraw and claiming there was no evidence to suggest that remaining American forces could have stabilized the situation. He also announced that he will be naming a State Department official to oversee efforts to assist women in Afghanistan. Blinken is set to testify again later this week.


Gideon Resnick: The first trial associated with the Varsity Blues scandal kicked off yesterday, two years after it turned our entire world upside down by revealing that rich people use their wealth and connections to unfairly get their kids into college. Josie, I am glad you are sitting down for this.


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m just shocked. I don’t even know what to say.


Gideon Resnick: 33 out of 50 parents and athletic coaches involved in the scandal have pleaded guilty. That includes actress Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin. The trial that began yesterday is of two parents who haven’t pleaded guilty. Both high-powered executives, they are accused of spending $300,000 and $1.2 million, respectively, to turn their kids into star athletes on paper. Their attorneys say they thought those donations were legal and they’re actually victims of evil admissions consultant Rick Singer—incredible name. Either way, these people are now locked in a tight contest with Elizabeth Holmes to be the world’s least sympathetic defendant in a criminal trial. We’ll have more details as the trial unfolds.


Josie Duffy Rice: Facebook’s campaign to control misinformation has been thwarted yet again by its very worst enemy, Facebook.


Gideon Resnick: Rats.


Josie Duffy Rice: New reporting from The Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook uses a secret system called CrossCheck to give some 5.8 million high-profile users protection from their content moderation rules, often allowing them to violate Facebook’s rules without any consequences. The list includes celebrities, politicians, and journalists. Among them are Trump, Candice Owens, Dan Scavino, and at least one animal influencer named—get ready—Doug the Pug. Facebook developed CrossCheck to avoid situations where its automated system deleted posts from these users that actually didn’t violate their rules, and the users would complain. So in essence, Facebook wanted to avoid bad PR and in doing so it let itself become the go-to source for information about which babies elite Democrats are eating or injecting at any given moment. Facebook knows its system is indefensible. A 2019 internal review said of its content moderation policies towards influential users quote—uh, just great quote—quote “We are not actually doing what we say we do publicly.”


Gideon Resnick: Oh my god.


Josie Duffy Rice: You know, I went to law school. It’s been a long time, but I feel like you’re not supposed to put that in writing. They do teach you that.


Gideon Resnick: They have so many, “are we the baddies?” moments in these internal meetings, [unclear] it’s insane.


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. Truly, truly incredible.


Gideon Resnick: Well, those are the headlines. That is all for today, if you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave review, send a friend request to Doug the Pug, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading, and not just identifying info about Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And he’ll help us stand up so that we can go to the Met Gala.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I have a ACL tear.


Josie Duffy Rice: We need, we need everybody listening to give us a hand.


Gideon Resnick: It would maybe be easier for me to call 911. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran Me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.