Gavin Newsom and His Hollywood Backers Breathe a Sigh of Relief as Recall Fails
A fair number of people in Hollywood were breathing a sigh of relief on Tuesday night when media outlets declared that California governor Gavin Newsom would survive the recall election that sought to remove him from office. With approximately 70 percent of the vote counted as of Wednesday, the “no” votes on recall were at approximately 63.9 percent, with 36.1 percent voting in favor of recalling the sitting governor.
“I am extremely happy that the voters up and down this state have reconfirmed Governor Newsom’s mandate to continue to lead California as we navigate through this pandemic, climate change, fighting anti-Semitism and so many other issues,” entertainment mogul Haim Saban, a prominent supporter of the anti-recall campaign, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I am proud to have supported the governor to stop this recall effort along with many of my colleagues in the entertainment industry. We all look forward to working with the governor and his administration as we continue to focus on growth and job creation in our industry.”
The results also provide further evidence that California, for now, is an extremely safe blue state, reflecting that the electorate has changed since Democrat Gray Davis was successfully recalled in 2003 which brought Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger to office.
Since July 1, when the recall petition was officially certified and the election set for Sept. 14, Newsom campaigned vigorously to retain his current seat amid a polarizing race, the second in California state history.
The agitation for a recall election gained traction when Newsom’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was called into question by grassroots Republican groups. An incident at Napa Valley’s French Laundry restaurant in November 2020 added fuel to the already crackling fire: Newsom was photographed maskless at a friend’s birthday party, a move seen by many as hypocritical given his directives on how to limit virus spread to the public.
During the past several months, notable Democrats like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and former President Barack Obama threw support behind Newsom; the governor’s anti-recall campaign commanded $54 million in donations, as reported by The Los Angeles Times.
In the entertainment industry, Newsom garnered significant financial support, motivated in recent weeks by the fear that the race between him and his main opponent — conservative talk radio host Larry Elder — was too close to be safe. The most notable donation to the anti-recall cause came in from Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings (who had supported Newsom’s opponent, former L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in the 2018 Democratic primary for governor) at $3 million, around 5 percent of the total raised by the anti-recall campaign.
Donations also poured in from other entertainment industry heavyweights including Jeffrey Katzenberg ($500K), Steven Spielberg ($25K), Dana and Matt Walden ($15K), Dagmar Dolby ($10K), Byron Allen ($10K), and Barbra Streisand ($2.5K). Other big donations came from entertainment companies and industry PACs including NBC Universal Media ($25K), the Motion Picture Association California PAC ($10.5K), Paramount Pictures ($40K), and the Entertainment Software Association ($50K).
Carrying out the recall election was estimated to have cost the state of California around $278 million, a cost that many commentators in Hollywood pointed to on social media after the results came in Tuesday night. “WTF with all the tax money wasted on this farce of a recall. this gonna keep happening and happening?” tweeted musician and filmmaker Questlove. Chaz Bono posted, “Now that Trump’s party failed in their effort to oust @GavinNewsom, Amazing, let’s all thank the so called, ‘Fiscally Responsible’ GOP for the 300 million dollar tax bill. Before waiting our time & money again, next time remember CA is Blue!”
The anti-recall vote means a host of issues and rights that the Democratic Party rank-and-file in Hollywood care about most will continue to be safeguarded and addressed, which Newsom pointedly referred to in remarks to supporters Tuesday night.
“I want to focus on what we said ‘yes’ to as a state. We said ‘yes’ to science, we said ‘yes’ to vaccines, we said ‘yes’ to ending this pandemic, we said ‘yes’ to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression,” Newsom stated in his speech. “We said ‘yes’ to women’s fundamental constitutional right to decide herself what she does with her body and her fate and future. We said ‘yes’ to diversity. We said ‘yes’ to inclusion. We said ‘yes’ to pluralism. We said ‘yes’ to all those things that we hold dear as Californians and I would argue as Americans. Economic justice. Social justice. Racial justice. Environmental justice. Our values where California has made so much progress, all of those things were on the ballot this evening.”
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who oversees public safety in the city among other things, says Hollywood depends on restrictions like the ones Newsom has kept in place over the course of the still ongoing pandemic.
“For the entertainment industry to flourish in California requires that it be open for business; we cannot have another shut down that stops production up and down the state, but particularly here in Los Angeles, and to stave off that shutdown requires adhering to these common sense measures,” Feuer says. “I know on sets that there are requirements for testing, for vaccination, for testing and for masks. Those are appropriate requirements, and Governor Newsom has been in the forefront of assuring that Californians are safe.”
Having survived the recall, though, will Hollywood expect more from Newsom given the handsome donations he was able to receive from key industry supporters? “I don’t know that people were generally thinking about reciprocity. I think they were thinking about what kind of job he’s done,” entrepreneur Jon Vein tells THR. “Certainly his stewarding the state through the pandemic which I think was objectively well executed.” Key issues the entertainment industry will be watching moving forward are homelessness and Los Angeles’ infrastructure, DEI, and supporting the industry through tax subsidies.
“I think that Hollywood certainly would like to see the world opened up as quickly but as responsibly as possible and I think that that’s the path that the governor has tried to navigate. He understands the importance of business broadly and Hollywood business more narrowly, but you don’t want to kill people either,” Vein says.
Elder, if he had been elected, would have become the state’s first Black governor. He became the Republican frontrunner thanks to a conservative-libertarian platform against the mask and vaccine mandates that the entertainment industry believes have helped keep Los Angeles, as well as Hollywood sets, safe. Though Elder stoked voter fraud claims in the waning hours of the election, he still accepted defeat late Tuesday night, as did Caitlyn Jenner, who got one percent of the vote.
Ahead of the final call, Feuer was optimistic that California voters would see through this “opportunistic attempt by the right wing to seize what is a highly complex, challenging moment in the state, an attempt to make it into a takeover of the governor’s office,” he says. If Elder had won and the “right wing power grab” had proven successful, “it would have devastating consequences here for our economy, for our health, and certainly for the entertainment industry,” he says.
The recall election also spawned an effort to change the recall statute itself and make it more difficult to force a recall, an effort that was applauded on social media Tuesday by the likes of actor Elijah Wood — who tweeted “Oh, and now can we just put this ‘recall’ notion to bed forever?” — and writer Angela Harvey, who wrote, “I need the California legislature to rewrite these recall procedures IMMEDIATELY.”
While California is one of 19 states that allow recalls, the dynamics of this particular race changed when Elder emerged as Newsom’s lead opponent, making the contest seem more like a general election race. Elder’s allegiance to former President Trump’s rhetoric and ideals lead President Biden to say, “You either keep Gavin Newsom as your governor or you’ll get Donald Trump,” in remarks at a Long Beach rally on Sept. 13.
As it stands, Newsom could be in a strong position to win a second term in 2022, especially given that his share of the vote in the recall election outpaced his 61.9 percent win in 2018.
Another lesson of the recall: It showed that making a statewide race a referendum on Trumpism can work to Democrat’s favor, which may provide something of a salve to left-wing voters across the country and in Hollywood worried about both the upcoming mid-terms and the 2024 presidential election. Though Newsom cautioned in his remarks last night, “We may have defeated Trump but Trumpism is not dead in this country. The Big Lie. January 6 insurrection. All the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country. What’s happening, the assault on fundamental rights, constitutional protected rights of women and girls.”