2021 California Recall Election Guide

Photo by Drei Kubik on Unsplash

On September 14, 2021, Californians will have a special election on whether to recall Governor Gavin Newsom. There will be two questions on the ballot. The first will ask whether Gavin Newsom should be recalled (removed) from the office of governor. The second (should the first question get more than 50% of the vote) asks who should replace him. Below are my thoughts on the recall and some of the top candidates to replace him.

Question #1: Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?

Let’s look at reasons for and against the recall:

Reasons for Recall


The reasons for recall are numerous. For me, the most pressing issue has been the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, the overabundance of caution against a mostly unknown disease was warranted. As time has gone on, we have learned more about COVID-19 and how much danger it poses. I think most of us recognize that while some precautions are necessary, many of the regulations have gone overboard. Newsom’s heavy-handed approach has decimated many businesses, and his own hypocritical actions (such as the infamous French Laundry incident) certainly don’t speak well of his character. Other actions such as releasing criminals early from jail and numerous occurances of misleading the public (just ask his Democratic challenger Kevin Paffrath) certainly make a good case for a recall.

Reasons Against Recall


The main argument Gavin Newsom has used against the recall is that it is an scheme by (evil, scary) Trump Republicans to seize power. They also point to the $81 million cost of the recall election (which is moot at this point since the election is going to happen either way) and the fact that they think that Newsom has been doing a really great job. California is supposedly “roaring back,” but that’s not the way it looks from where I stand.

My Evaluation

Obviously, not everything wrong with California can be pinned on Newsom but are longstanding issues that we haven’t addressed. On the other hand, I would argue that he has certainly perpetuated the policies that have led us to where we are now. Whether or not you think the recall is warranted, given the fact that the election is happening, I think we should use the opportunity to get a better governor in there for the next year. I’ll be voting YES.

Question #2: Candidates to succeed Gavin Newson as governor if he is recalled

If Question #1 succeeds, there are 46 candidates listed to replace Gavin Newsom as governor. I obviously won’t be going into all 46, especially when candidates write things like “Love U” as their candidate statement (Really, just look in the voter guide. That’s all he wrote).

I’ll be going through the top candidates based on polling data. It’s important to note that most people still remain undecided, so the results on election day could vary significantly. You can find average poll numbers here:

Larry Elder

Website: https://www.electelder.com/

Larry Elder is the current frontrunner. He was raised in South Central, Los Angeles and has been a radio host for decades. He is often referred to as the “Sage from South Central.”

Elder calls himself a “small ‘l’ libertarian.” His main issues of concern are combatting vaccine and mask mandates, cutting spending, lifting regulations to spur the development of housing (particularly CEQA), school choice, solving our drought and wildfire crises, and being tough on crime. Elder holds to fairly conservative (or libertarian) positions on these issues, and in that way, has a lot going for him. I also have come to admire the way he calls out the loaded questions he is often fed by liberal media in his interviews. He doesn’t back down from a challenge. Being a radio host for decades, he can articulate his positions well and always seems to have news articles or studies that he can cite to justify his positions.

My main criticism of Elder is his position on executive powers. He (and pretty much everyone else) has been critical of Gavin Newsom for the way he has handled and abused executive power. Yet, at the same time, he wants to accomplish much of his agenda through emergency executive action himself. Even though I think he could accomplish some good things by doing so, on principle, I oppose using that type of executive authority. It perpetuates an already bad precedent. He also has little in the way of policy specifics on his website.

Kevin Paffrath (“Meet Kevin”)

Website: https://www.meetkevin.com/

Paffrath is an interesting candidate. He is a Youtuber, financial analyst, and real estate broker. He styles himself a “JFK Democrat.” His top issues are ending homelessness, addressing infrastructure needs, bringing transparency to government, education reform, and streamlining the building process to make houses easier to build and more affordable.

Despite running as a Democrat, he is actually quite moderate (even libertarian) on some issues (particularly economic ones). I can’t remember the last time I heard a Democrat say that they want to get the government out of our lives. He tends to be very informed and research-driven. One thing that helps him stand out from the other candidates is the amount of specificity he gives when he addresses policy issues. He is a man of ideas. In many ways, he comes across as more of an ordinary person rather than a politician.

On the other hand, many of his policy proposals seem rather…well…ambitious? naive? There’s a fine line between those two, and to me, he can cross over into the realm of naivete. For example, to help address our water crisis, he wants to build a pipeline from the Mississippi River to California. Creative? Yes. Realistic? I don’t think so. In addition, like Elder, he also wants to address several issues through emergency executive powers. Again, I think this sets a bad precedent even if he could do some good things with it. Lastly, as a Democrat, although I can’t find a clip of him discussing social issues specifically, I would assume he is pro-choice and progressive on LGBTQ issues.

John Cox

Website: https://johncox.com/

John Cox is a businessman who ran (and lost) against Gavin Newsom for governor in 2018. The main themes of his campaign are homelessness, slashing taxes, education, and public safety.

His campaign has a rather odd theme: being a “beast” and saying that we need “beastly” change. He even went so far as to do a press conference with a live bear. I voted for him back in 2018 against Gavin Newsom. I think he could be a decent governor, and his experience as a CPA would be helpful in addressing California’s spending problems. Cox is polling around 6-10% because of good name recognition but I don’t see him coming out on top should the recall succeed.

Kevin Faulconer

Website: https://www.kevinfaulconer.com/issues

Kevin Faulconer is the former mayor of San Diego. Like other candidates, he seeks to address homelessness, education, cutting taxes, addressing wildfires, helping the restaurant industry, public safety, helping veterans, etc.

Faulconer’s greatest strength lies in his executive experience at one of California’s largest cities. Transitioning to governor would be a natural next step. Of the candidates, he also has one of the more detailed “issues” pages on his website. Faulconer calls himself a “moderate Republican.” He prides himself on being a collaborator and being able to reach across the aisle to Democrats to get things accomplished. People have various opinions on his record as San Diego mayor. I don’t really have any special insight into that.

On the other hand, Faulconer, as a “moderate Republican,” is pro-choice and more liberal on LGBTQ issues. He can come across as more of your stereotypical politician. He is more polished but also doesn’t seem as relatable.

Kevin Kiley

Website: https://kileyforcalifornia.com/

Kevin Kiley has been a state assemblyman from CA’s 6th district since 2016. He is a former school teacher and attorney.

His website emphasizes things like humility, responsibility, rule of law, accountability, transparency, unity—very values-focused. However, during debates and interviews, I also saw someone who has good legislative chops and appears reasonably informed on the issues.

Overall, Kiley seems to align with my values best. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be polling more than 5%, so it is unlikely that he will win should the recall succeed.

Caitlyn Jenner

Website: https://caitlynjenner.com/

Jenner is all but out at this point. When a candidate prioritizes shooting for a television show over their campaign, you see where their priorities are.


To reiterate, I will be voting YES on the recall. Who I vote for as a replacement will depend on the situation on election day. As I mentioned, Kevin Kiley most closely aligns with my values. However, if you want a Republican to replace Newsom, Larry Elder might be your best bet, as he seems to have most of the momentum and support from conservatives.

If you want a more moderate Democrat, Kevin Paffrath could be an interesting choice and would certainly be an improvement over Newsom. He makes the case that only a Democrat could make any headway with the Democratic supermajority in the legislature. There’s a grain of truth there, but I also think that the Democrats in the legislature are more driven by ideology than party affiliation. If Paffrath wanted to advance his more moderate or libertarian policies, I imagine he would get stiff resistance from them. Either way, because of what I presume his stances are on social issues, he’s not someone I can endorse.

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