Climate change gets leading role in Gavin Newsom recall election in California

·Senior Editor
·4-min read

Mail-in ballots began arriving this week for the Sept. 14 recall election of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a contest that Democrats and environmentalists are increasingly framing in terms of its impact on the state's efforts to fight climate change

While a group called the California Patriot Coalition began circulating petitions to recall Newsom in early 2020 in protest of his policies on taxes, the state's ongoing drought, homelessness and immigration, the accumulation of the more than 1.5 million signatures necessary to trigger a new election was aided by frustrations over COVID-19 restrictions. 

But with wildfires made worse by climate change continuing to threaten much of the state, Democrats quickly began highlighting that issue, on which Newsom has taken aggressive action. 

In remarks delivered Tuesday marking the one-year anniversary of the CZU Lightning Complex fires, Newsom said, “It’s clear that the existential climate crisis we face is not only a threat to our future but to our storied history and the natural wonders that shape California as we know it.”

“I’m grateful that California has a partner in the Biden administration that recognizes the need to tackle this challenge with the urgency and bold action it demands,” he added.

The governor's campaign has also been pushing the idea that Newsom is the only candidate of the 47 on the ballot with a clear plan to fight climate change. 

Gavin Newsom
California Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

“The choice before California is stark,” Nathan Click, a senior campaign adviser for Newsom, told USA Today. “You have a governor who has been a national leader on climate change, fighting for the environment and clean energy, versus Larry Elder, who has consolidated the Republican base, and said that climate change is a crock.”

Elder, a conservative talk radio host seen as Newsom's leading challenger, was asked last week by ABC7 News whether he believed climate change is making California's wildfires worse.  

“I’m not sure it’s because of climate change,” Elder responded, although numerous studies have established that link

For Newsom, emphasizing climate change makes sense. Sixty-three percent of Californians say they are "concerned about climate change increasing the severity of wildfires," according to a July poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. 

As governor, Newsom has signed an executive order requiring that all new cars and trucks sold in California by 2035 be zero-emission vehicles, and he has set a goal for that same year of making the state carbon-neutral. 

A firefighter
The Dixie Fire rages near Milford, Calif., on Tuesday. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

In an article posted to its website titled “The Recall Election Is a Threat to California’s Climate Progress,“ the California League of Conservation Voters cited Newsom’s emphasis on climate change as a reason to vote no in the recall. 

“Since Governor Newsom was elected to office in 2018, he has taken significant strides on climate action. The people behind the recall are set on sending California backwards, not forwards,” the group stated. 

Yet with many other factors leading 2.1 million voters in the state to have signed the petition to recall Newsom, it may not be enough to save him. If more than 50 percent of voters say the governor should be recalled, he'll be forced from office. 

While less than a quarter of Californians are registered as Republicans, Newsom's style has often rubbed voters the wrong way, as when he attended a November dinner party at the posh French Laundry restaurant in the Napa Valley in violation of state COVID restrictions. 

During a summer when climate change continues to make headlines in the state thanks to horrific wildfires, multiple oppressive heat waves and a worsening drought, activists who want the governor to remain in office are making sure to link that topic to the recall. 

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