Newsom

Fact-Checking the California Recall Voter Information Guide

NBC Universal, Inc.

As the Sept. 14 recall election of California Gov. Gavin Newsom approaches, arguments for and against his removal have been making national headlines.

NBC 7 Investigates traced back some of the bolder claims made by both sides published in the voter information guide to determine what is true, and what could be misleading.

Arguments in Favor of Recalling Gov. Newsom

1) “The state’s homeless population increased dramatically while Newsom spent billions on programs that do not work. Our state now has the worst homeless problem on record.”

Half True

In the first year of Newsom’s administration, California’s homeless population increased by 6.8%, from 151,278 in 2019 to 161,548 in 2020. This is a bigger homeless population and a larger percentage increase than any other state in the nation. Newsom also did sign a historic $12 billion Housing and Homelessness Funding Package as part of a larger $100 billion California Comeback Plan. The package is a two-year investment that plans to directly help people off the street. However, this package was only signed recently on July 19, 2021, so it is currently unknown how effective the plan will be.

2) “Gas, food and housing prices have surged. California now has the highest gas prices nationwide. The cost of living has driven many families, businesses and corporations out of state.”

Half-true as there is no way to know what is driving people out of the state

California currently does have the highest gas prices in the nation at around $4.394 a gallon, and prices are higher now than when Newsom took office. However, gas prices fluctuate regularly, and there has been an increase in prices nationwide due to shorter supply and higher demand as pandemic restrictions loosen. Increased prices for certain foods are similarly due to costs associated with the pandemic.

Statewide median housing prices for single-family homes have also increased, reaching $811,170 in July 2021. This is a 50.6% increase from the $538,690 figure when Newsom took office in Jan 2019. Although California has seen a population decrease in the last year of over 182,000, it is not definitively known that the cost of living is the main force behind it. Additionally, a recent UC San Diego study found no evidence that people and businesses were planning to leave the state at an abnormal rate.

3) “The early release of nearly 20,000 prison inmates led to a spike in crime and homelessness. Now, Newsom plans to release another 67,000 prison inmates early – which will make matters worse. Crime is soaring. Homicides went up 31 percent in 2020.”

Half True

Those inmate releases are mandated under Prop 57, which Californians voted into law back in 2016—two years before Newsom was elected governor in 2018. And while homicides did rise by 30% in 2020, there is no evidence directly linking that rise to the Prop 57 prison releases. The rise in crime is not unique to the Golden State. A Council on Criminal Justice report published this year, using FBI crime data, showed spikes in homicides in major U.S. cities in 2020—including in states that did not mandate the early release of prison inmates. Also, while homicides are up nationally, numbers are still well below the violent crime peaks of the 80s and 90s.

4) “Newsom claimed to increase the fire protection budget, but instead he cut $150 million from that budget.”

True

However, after the budget cut was made public, state fire officials took responsibility for misrepresenting fire prevention work to the governor’s office. Overall, Cal Fire treated more land in 2019 than the year before. But that number fell again in 2020, partly because of the pandemic.

5) “Newsom attended a fancy dinner without masks or social distancing days after he told Californians to stay home, wear masks and avoid gatherings.”

True

On Nov. 6, 2020, Newsom attended a lobbyist friend’s birthday dinner at the French Laundry in the Napa Valley region while California was under a partial lockdown and gatherings of a dozen people or more were forbidden, even if outdoors. He initially told reporters the gathering was outside where the virus was less likely to spread. But photos leaked to the press showed the gathering occurred indoors. Newsom apologized soon after, calling the dinner a “bad mistake.”

6) “Newsom secretly authorized a contract for nearly $1 billion to outsource mask production to a politically connected Chinese company. The head of that company donated tens of thousands to Newsom’s campaign. The state wired half a billion dollars to the company without legislative approval. The governor’s office has refused to release information about this publicly.”

True

Government watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained 848 pages detailing the communication leading to the $990 million contract between the state and a Congress-scrutinized China-based electric car company named BYD to produce 300 million N95 face masks. A lobbyist emailed the governor’s office promoting the company BYD. The deal ensured BYD would not produce the masks in sweatshops, and BYD refunded nearly $250 million of California’s down payment due to its failure to meet OSHA requirements. However, the state contract also exempted BYD from any liability should there be any problems with the masks.

The president of BYD’s automotive subsidiary gave $40,000 to Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign. The company has also donated smaller amounts to a handful of legislative campaigns. The contract didn’t require legislative approval because state lawmakers granted Newsom rare authorization to spend up to $1 billion “for any purpose” related to the pandemic ahead of the deal. But after multiple media outlets scrutinized it, legislators called for more contract details – details Newsom’s office initially refused to release to the public before ultimately reversing course.

7) “The EDD spent more than $30 billion in fraudulent payments to criminals and prison inmates, while forcing hundreds of thousands of struggling Californians to wait months for their money.”

Mostly True

Of the $114 billion in unemployment funds given to Californians since March 2020, $11.4 billion was confirmed to be fraudulent by the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency. An additional $20 billion was identified as potentially fraudulent but has yet to be confirmed. Some prison inmates were found to have their names and information used as part of the scam. Despite Newsom’s attempts to reform the EDD in 2020, problems have still arisen.

8) “Between 2008 and 2017, California had 4,300 blackouts. But on Newsom’s watch there were 25,281 blackouts in 2019 alone.”

Half True

The recent rolling blackouts were a 1 in a 30-year event. However, multiple state oversight commissions have attributed the cause of the blackouts to climate change and poor supply and demand planning by utility companies—not Gov. Newsom’s office, which has been critical of power companies.

Arguments Against Recalling Gov. Newsom

1) “The same national Republicans who fought to overturn the presidential election and launched efforts to undermine the right to vote across the country are the recall’s leading supporters.”

Half True

Polls show more Republicans than Democrats support the recall and would vote in favor of ousting Newsom. However, the founder of this current recall campaign is Orrin Heatlie, a former sheriff’s sergeant from Northern California who initially created the “Recall Gavin 2020” as a protest against Newsom’s decision to ban the death penalty. While Heatlie did vote for Trump, and while some recall supporters have been vocal in their beliefs that the presidential election was stolen and in favor of controversial voting restrictions, there is no evidence to suggest the majority of the more than 1.5 million Californians who signed the recall petition last April—qualifying it for a vote—subscribe to those same beliefs. 

2) “Recall leaders want to repeal California’s clean air protections, roll back gun safety laws and take away health care access for those who need it.”

True

The recall campaign website and petition language list Newsom’s “Executive Order to Phase Out Gasoline-Powered Cars by 2035” and “Infringements of our 2nd Amendment Rights” and “Countless new Gun and Ammo Laws” and “Mandatory Health Insurance or be Fined to Pay for Illegals Health Insurance” as reasons to recall the governor.

3) “Handing power to Republicans and President Trump supporters could set our state back in the fight against COVID.”

Indeterminate

It is impossible to say definitively how COVID cases will be affected by the result of the recall. However, some Republican frontrunners to replace Gov. Newsom such as conservative talk show host Larry Elder have come out against vaccine and mask mandates.

4) “Our state is beating the pandemic. Californians have some of the highest vaccination levels in the country—leaving us better protected against variants than most other states.”

True

California ranks 8th in the nation in the percentage of the population having received at least one shot, with 79% of 18 to 64 year-olds already vaccinated. Additionally, the CDC says the COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective against the Delta variant. However, at least twice since the start of the pandemic, the Golden State has boasted the lowest case rates in the nation, before ultimately experiencing surges in new cases paralleling those of other states. 

5) “Newsom passed the $100 billion California Comeback Plan—the largest economic recovery package in state history. Under the plan, two in three Californian families are receiving at least $600 in direct relief, and 200,000 small businesses will benefit from relief programs.”

True

Newsom announced the historic stimulus plan in May (one month after the recall petition achieved enough signatures to make the ballot). The plan is funded by a $75 billion state budget surplus. Families earning $30,000-75,000 can expect to see stimulus checks in their accounts as early as September. The plan also padded the state’s small business COVID relief grant program, which offers grants of up to $25,000 to small businesses and nonprofits across the state. Under Newsom’s plan, the program will now have a total of $4 billion in available grant dollars—the largest such program in the country.

6) “Democrats and independents across the state and nation – including Biden and Harris – oppose the recall.”

True

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both oppose the recall of Gov. Newsom.

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