California governor forced to fight for his job as fires rage and infections rise

Republican-led recall vote of Governor Gavin Newsom will cost taxpayers more than $270m

A new vote-by-mail drop box for the California gubernatorial recall election stands in a Los Angeles Metro station. AFP
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California voters began receiving mail-in ballots this week for a statewide recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom — which could prove to be a costly and dangerous decision for the most populous and productive state in the US.

Raging fires and coronavirus-related issues have affected thousands of residents as Covid-19 infections spike due to the spread of the Delta variant.

The election is the first gubernatorial recall in nearly two decades and will cost the state around $276 million dollars, the state finance department said.

In February 2020, Republicans started circulating an unsuccessful recall petition highlighting the party's disdain for Mr Newsom's pro-immigration policies, water cuts and rising homelessness. They then tacked on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the initiative took hold.

Californians can start voting by mail starting this week with the recall taking place on September 14.

On the ballot, voters can vote "yes" or "no" to Mr Newsom's recall, but then voters must choose one of the 45 candidates listed to replace him, which include Democratic financial advice YouTuber Kevin Paffrath and former Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner.

His stiffest competition comes from a conservative talk show host, Larry Elder, who is promising to abolish the mask mandate.

Mr Newsom, who Democrats have mentioned as a future US presidential candidate, began gaining national popularity when he served as mayor of San Francisco.

In 2018, the Democrat ran for the state's highest office and defeated businessman John Cox in a historic landslide victory, receiving 61.9 per cent of the vote.

California was the first state in the US to go into lockdown, with Mr Newsom enacting some of the toughest coronavirus restrictions for longer than many other states in the country. Many residents were angered by mandatory mask mandates, local fines for non-compliance, and the closures of state beaches and parks.

California Governor Gavin Newsom imposed some of the strictest coronavirus-related mandates and now faces a recall election. AP

Under pressure, Mr Newsom loosened restrictions and now the state leads the US with the most recorded Covid-19 deaths, with 64,000 fatalities.

Los Angeles County, the largest in the state, has since reinstated indoor mask mandates and anyone wishing to enter a public establishment in San Francisco must show proof of full vaccination.

Recent polls predict a close election, with a compilation of data from opinion poll analysis site FiveThirtyEight showing that 48.8 per cent of voters want to keep Mr Newsom in office.

The election is garnering national attention — with even President Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders expressing support for Mr Newsom.

In addition, California is currently managing five large wildfires spreading mostly uncontrolled, including the Dixie Fire, which is now the second-largest fire in the state's history.

“Dixie Fire is the first fire that we’re aware of that has burnt from the west side of the mountain range all the way over and to the valley floor on the east side of the mountain range,” Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said on Monday.

“We don’t have any record of that happening before.”

The Caldor Fire in the northern part of the state broke out on Wednesday, with zero containment, sending thousands of residents fleeing. To date, there have been 6,574 fires in the state and 526,737 hectares of land have been burnt.

The highly contagious Delta variant is fuelling a new wave of coronavirus cases that is trending higher than the first wave experienced in the summer of 2020, and there is a renewed push to have people vaccinated against Covid-19.

At least 67 per cent of the state's vaccine-eligible population has had at least one dose, according to New York Times data, while 54 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

Updated: April 27, 2022, 11:38 AM