California Democrats sharpen messaging against Newsom recall

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FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2021, file photo, California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlines his 2021-2022 state budget proposal during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. The California Democratic Party is gathering for its annual convention on the heels of a recall against Newsom reaching the signature threshold to qualify for the ballot. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California Democrats sharpened their anti-recall messaging Saturday during the state party's annual convention, arguing removing Gov. Gavin Newsom from office early would roll back immigrant rights and criminal justice reforms, stall progress on the housing crisis and waste taxpayer money.

The California Democratic Party gathering, held virtually, served as a venue for party leaders to energize some of the party's most active volunteers ahead of Newsom's expected election later this year.

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“I’ve seen firsthand what a leader he is and how he really does put his heart into his work on behalf of the people of California, and President Joe Biden and I support him 100%," Vice President Kamala Harris, who began her political career in San Francisco alongside Newsom, said in pre-taped remarks. She added, “because of your hard work, we're going to keep Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento."

The annual convention comes on the heels of the California secretary of state announcing the recall election had enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. Though there are several more steps before the recall is certified, it's all but certain voters will decide later this year whether to remove Newsom from office before his regularly scheduled re-election in 2022.

Republican voters angry at Newsom's liberal policies on immigration, criminal justice reform and more launched the longshot recall effort last year. It gained steam during the pandemic, as people grew frustrated by Newsom's pandemic response. Still, recent polling shows Newsom with support from a majority of voters.

Newsom and his allies paint the recall as a partisan effort in hopes of keeping Democrats and independent voters united behind him; Republicans make up just a quarter of the state's registered voters. Maintaining the support of activists will be key to keeping another Democrat out of the race.

“With the help of the Biden-Harris administration, California is poised to put our fight against inequality into overdrive," Newsom said. “National Republicans and extreme right-wingers, they're not sitting back, they're throwing everything they can at their recall power grab all in hopes — all in hopes — of rolling back all the important progress we have made together. We can't let them win."

Elsewhere, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee said removing Newsom from office would roll back California's progress on the housing crisis, though critics say he hasn't done enough to speed building. State Controller Betty Yee said the recall could cost $90 million, money that would be better spent on other state priorities. (State finance officials have not yet done a formal cost estimate.)

Franky Carrillo, a criminal justice reform advocate who had a wrongful murder conviction overturned in 2011 after 20 years in prison, gave a rousing defense of the governor's criminal justice policies. Carrillo joined Newsom at the Capitol in early 2019 when Newsom issued a moratorium on the death penalty, a key point of anger among some recall supporters.

“We must defend him and not allow a miscarriage of justice to occur," Carrillo said.

Newsom also got support from Jaime Harrison, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. With no presidential or congressional elections scheduled this year, the recall will be among the highest profile races in the country this fall.

Recall organizers have denied the characterization of their effort as partisan, saying about 30% of people who signed the recall petition are not Republicans. That’s impossible to verify, and all of the major declared candidates are Republicans. Among those running are former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, businessman John Cox, former congressman Doug Ose and reality TV star Caitlyn Jenner, who has made no public campaign appearances since declaring her candidacy last week.

Faulconer, speaking to CNN on Saturday, said Newsom has hurt small businesses and failed to do enough to tackle homelessness and get kids back in school.

Beyond the recall, Harris, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress touted President Joe Biden’s progress during his first 100 days and urged activists to help generate support for Biden’s ambitious spending agenda and look ahead to 2022′s midterm elections.

Harris recalled her career in California politics, where she served as San Francisco's district attorney, state attorney general and U.S. senator before winning the vice presidency.

“As a daughter of California who is in the White House, I thank you. It is because of you and your hard work," she said.

All virtual, the event was awkward at times, with some videos clearly recorded weeks in advance and already out of date. Newsom, for example, touted the administration of 24 million vaccine doses, but earlier Saturday morning he had tweeted about the number of doses crossing 30 million.

Going virtual also meant there were fewer ways for activists to display discontent. At past conventions, some delegates have booed or turned their backs on speakers. The only moment of criticism came when outgoing party secretary Jenny Bach, a member of the California Young Democrats who ran and lost for party vice chair, said the party has “too much toxicity and hostility" and needs changes.

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