CALIFORNIA, USA — This is the third time that Californians are voting for governor in the past four years.
Democrat Gavin Newsom won a decisive blowout in 2018, then beat back a recall attempt last September by a nearly identical margin. As he pursues a second and final four-year term, Newsom faces Brian Dahle, a Republican legislator from rural Northern California.
Even with some voters souring on the governor’s performance, it will take a miracle to unseat Newsom and his $25 million campaign war chest in this overwhelmingly Democratic state. He won 56% of the vote in the June primary, and in an August poll led Dahle by 55% to 31% among likely voters.
Who is Gavin Newsom?
Gavin Newsom has been generating headlines — and sparking speculation about his presidential ambitions — for nearly two decades. He came to widespread prominence in 2004 when, as the mayor of San Francisco, he briefly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the courts stepped in. Newsom has been chasing history and occupying the cutting edge of liberal politics ever since.
Elected governor in 2018, his first term in office has been dominated by his frequent public battles with former President Donald Trump, and then the coronavirus pandemic. His aggressive leadership, including issuing the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order in March 2020, initially earned him national plaudits. But after an ill-timed dinner at the French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, where he flouted his own COVID rules about mixing households, his pandemic response also became a rallying point for frustrated conservatives, who mounted an unsuccessful recall attempt against Newsom last year.
Newsom has kept many Democratic supporters satisfied with symbolically significant steps including a death penalty moratorium and diverse appointees to the state’s highest offices. He also emerged as a prominent voice nationally again this spring, leading California’s charge to expand abortion access after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But the governor disappointed progressives by backing away from his commitment to establish a single-payer health care system in California, one of his major campaign priorities. There is also growing frustration among the public that his promises to turbocharge housing production and address pervasive homelessness have yet to yield noticeable results.
Who is Brian Dahle?
Brian Dahle is from truly rural California: the tiny town of Bieber, with fewer than 300 residents, in the far northern county of Lassen. His family has ranched in the area for generations and he followed them into agriculture, starting his own seed company, which he has continued to operate during his forays into politics.
After a decade in the state Legislature, including a brief stint leading the Assembly Republican Caucus, Dahle is hardly a household name. But conservatives rallied behind him as the most prominent GOP challenger to Gov. Gavin Newsom this year. Dahle has tried to position himself as the savior who can rescue California from liberal elitism run amok under Newsom, whom he slammed as a “dictator” and a “smooth-talking wine salesman” during his campaign kickoff. Dahle has called for overturning Proposition 47, the voter-approved initiative that reduced penalties for some theft and drug crimes, and for requiring that homeless people get sober before the state will provide them with housing assistance.
An unapologetic conservative, Dahle easily eclipsed the rest of the field of challengers to finish second in the June primary, but he faces an uphill climb to win over the Democratic and independent voters he would need to topple Newsom in November. On key issues — including his support for former President Donald Trump and his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — Dahle is outside the mainstream of the California electorate. He received a little less than 18% of the primary vote, compared to 56% for Newsom.
Which candidate do you agree with most?
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On the Issues
Here’s where Brian Dahle and Gavin Newsom, candidates for governor, stand on some of the biggest questions facing California.
How would you increase the production of affordable housing?
Newsom: “We have done more in the past three years than ever before in California history to invest in housing construction and cut government red tape blocking construction. The budget I signed last year invested a historic $10.3 billion – by far the most ever invested in housing – into a comprehensive housing affordability strategy, while also implementing new laws and accountability measures. This year, I proposed a $2 billion investment to boost housing production and preserve affordable housing across the state.”
Dahle: “I actually think CEQA was a great law. … Unfortunately, it's turned into a pawn in many schemes. … We need to, first of all, hold people accountable who are using CEQA to sue just to extract. … If you frivolously sue and you lose and continue to lose, you have to pay. You have to pay for this because you're just holding up the process.”
What changes would you make to the state's current approach to address homelessness?
Newsom: “The next phase of our approach is creating the Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court — a new framework to get people with mental health and substance use disorders the support and care they need. … CARE Court includes accountability for everyone – on the individual and on local governments – with court orders for services.”
Dahle: “There are not enough clinicians, period. Number one. We need to prioritize giving tax credits or something, or education vouchers, for people that want to go into social services work. … I prefer to give block grants to counties, because counties are really the ones that are going to implement these services and this is a very diverse state.”
What is your plan to lower the cost of living?
Newsom: “Make California the first state in the nation to offer universal access to healthcare coverage. … Doubling down on plans to achieve free, universal pre-K, add thousands of child care slots… Create more housing California desperately needs, with billions in new grants and tax credits. Invest in small businesses, waiving fees and providing hundreds of millions in grants and tax breaks to small businesses.”
Dahle: “We have 60% higher electricity rates on average than anybody in the nation…so we need to take a look at…for all energy produced in California, what the bang for the buck we're getting. … We should be producing our oil here because we do it in a way better than anybody in the world, safer, more environmentally friendly.”
Polling data gathered by CalMatters on the governor's race is available below.
This is an abridged version of the full story, which is available at CALmatters.org—a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.
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