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Will: Why Californians might trade Gavin Newson in for Larry Elder

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LOS ANGELES — Slightly more than a month since Larry Elder became a Republican candidate to replace Democrat Gavin Newsom as California’s governor, the electorate that in 2018 elected Newsom is already voting on whether to truncate his term by a recall vote.

Elder’s campaign is a one-man band. Newsom’s is primarily big battalions: government employees unions focused on preserving their parasitic relations with government.

Under a two-step process, Californians can take a mulligan, voting to remove an official they recently chose, and simultaneously electing a replacement from an array of self-selected candidates.

If Newsom, 53, loses in the first step — voting ends Sept. 14 — Elder, 69, is heavily favored to win the second. Recall election polls, which depend on guesses about turnout, show the first-step vote within the margin of error.

From his house high in the Hollywood hills, with a glass wall providing a panoramic view of the city, Elder, clad in jeans and an open-collar shirt, is a picture of relaxation. After 27 years blanketing California with talk radio, he campaigns using that medium, a smattering of television and all forms of social media to spread an orthodox conservative-libertarian message. Newsom’s message is that Elder’s “assault on California values” risks upending progress. Well.

California has the nation’s highest cost-of-living-adjusted poverty rate and one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients. In 2020, when home building increased 6.1% nationally, in California, where regulations have congealed construction, home building declined 3.7%. In Texas, the median price of a home is 3.5 times the state’s median household income; in California, it is almost 10 times. The median home price in San Antonio is $226,665; in L.A., $898,692. The state has more than half the nation’s unsheltered homeless.

A Californian earning $58,000 annually pays a marginal tax rate double that of an Arizonan earning $500,000. California lost a net 70,000 residents in 2019, and in 2022, for the first time ever, it will lose a congressional seat. California’s native-born population has been declining since the 1990s. Migration from the state has increased every year but one since 2011. In the past decade, 687,000 Californians have moved to Texas.

Of the nation’s 10 largest school districts, only in Los Angeles’, the second largest, have students gone an entire year without in-school instruction. Even before COVID-19, only 30% of eighth graders (19% of Hispanics, 10% of Blacks) read proficiently, with comparable numbers for math. To finance the demands of government employees unions, California has the nation’s highest sales tax and gasoline tax (triple the national average). Soaring energy prices, partly a result of quixotic attempts to fine-tune the planet’s climate, inhibit the creation of industrial jobs. Hence, many who are fleeing the state are under 35 with annual household incomes under $50,000. Among the nation’s 53 largest metropolitan areas, San Francisco and Los Angeles rank 52nd and 53rd in birthrates. Since 2010, California’s median age has risen 50% faster than the rest of the nation’s.

Newsom would have to be a prodigy of perversity to have made this mess more than slightly worse since 2018. He should be removed not because he is remarkable but because he is banal — a fungible cog in a typical blue state political machine.

Elder’s constituency consists of the dissatisfied. Newsom’s base, those government employees unions, are government lobbying itself to do what it wants to do: expand. Progressives want to discredit Elder, but because he is Black, their explanation of everything — “systemic racism” — is unhelpful.

He rose from South Central L.A. to Brown University and the University of Michigan Law School, practiced law and founded a search firm for attorneys, before finding his vocation: decanting into millions of listeners the thoughts derived from Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, William F. Buckley Jr., Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others.

The pandemic, having concentrated minds on the power of teachers unions to prevent teaching, has opened many minds, especially among California’s Hispanic plurality, to Elder’s plans for schools: Public education money would flow to parents, who could spend it on public or private schooling. And unions could no longer protect the incompetent 5% (a conservative estimate of 15,000) of the state’s 300,000 public school teachers. In the previous decade, about two teachers a year (0.0007%) were fired for poor performance.

Having altered the recall rules in June to schedule the vote quickly, Newsom belatedly recognized Elder’s strength. His tampering with the process might end his governorship that began with a boast that was an inadvertent warning: “California is what America is going to look like.”

Will is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.


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