As the sun set over the great Pacific in Venice Beach on Monday, so too did it set on the California recall election. With only Election Day left to go most ballots have already been cast. Gavin Newsom’s future rests in votes that now mostly just have to be counted.
On the Venice boardwalk with its burger spots and mildly offensive T-shirts for sale, signs of the election were few and far between.
A small camera crew for a cable news network interviewed some passersby. One older gentleman doing a workout in his Make America Great Again hat exercised while listening to conservative radio. But mostly what was in the air was the wafting smell of weed, not excitement over Election Day.
"I want him to be recalled but it’s not going to happen," J.J. told me. I heard that a lot.
He is a retired Los Angeles cop who lives in Venice Beach. "I’m a conservative," he told me, somewhat quietly, adding, "but have all the drugs and abortions you want."
We landed on the idea that maybe he is more of a libertarian. His pessimism regarding the recall was rooted in a belief that most Californians just don’t care.
It was clear that this attitude was informed by his police work, where he felt his hands were tied by the government.
He used to work at Los Angeles International Airport, where he told me homeless and mentally ill people would just take over spaces, in part because of free WiFi, and that police couldn’t stop it.
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On the Venice promenade it did seem like efforts by Sheriff Alex Villenueva this summer had helped to remove encampments along the beach. And yet still, there were many lost souls, with seemingly nothing to do and little life in their eyes. I also saw a quick fist fight which seemed to amuse the tourists filming it on their phones.
But not everybody thinks that there is a crisis in California under Newsom’s leadership. Kasey, a CPA, told me that he fully supports the governor, saying, "I think he’s done a pretty good job."
You can see why someone in Los Angeles might feel differently about Newsom’s performance than someone in San Francisco. In the Bay area COVID restrictions are harsher. Nobody asked for my vaccination in card in L.A. and the put on your mask -- take off your mask dance entering restaurants is more silly than onerous.
One question I asked several people who think Newsom will survive the recall effort, and that was most people, was if it might be different if Election Day had been six months ago.
Almost all told me that back then Newsom would probably have lost. It is difficult to tell how much of that attitude is driven by a sense that California is coming out of the COVID crisis, or if they have simply resigned themselves to it.
After spending 7 days in California, from San Francisco, to the Central Valley, to the beaches of L.A., what I saw was not a state in crisis but one in which a state of crisis seems to hang over certain areas. But the people I spoke to for the most part can compartmentalize the very obvious bad signs, the lack of order in some places and what impacts their day to day life.
If Gavin Newsom survives the recall it will be because their day to day lives do not feel like emergencies that must be addressed by removing the governor.