September 21, 2021

California Recall: Right-Wing Radio Host Who Once Mentored Stephen Miller Could Replace Gov. Newsom

8 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to California, where an effort to recall Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom is underway in a special election that could also shape national politics.
Conservative talk radio host Larry Elder is now the Republican front-runner challenging Newsom. Elder was a mentor to Stephen Miller, the xenophobic, anti-immigrant former Trump adviser.
As the race heats up, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were set to travel to California to support Newsom. Harris has canceled a campaign event planned for today, after the attacks in Afghanistan.
Ballots have already been mailed to all registered California voters, who have until September 14th to answer two questions: Should the governor be recalled? And, if they vote yes, who should replace him? If more than 50% say, yes, the governor should be recalled, the candidate with the most votes becomes the new governor.
Newsom’s leading challenger, Larry Elder, gave Stephen Miller one of his first platforms, as our next guest, Jean Guerrero, writes about in her book, Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, which is out in paperback this week. Jean is a Los Angeles Times columnist who’s written several columns about the recall race. Last week, she wrote, “If Larry Elder is elected, life will get harder for Black and Latino Californians,” her latest column headlined “Gavin Newsom has been one of the most pro-Latino governors in California history, and he’s under attack for it.” She joins us from San Diego, California.
Jean, welcome back to Democracy Now! First, explain this extremely unusual, arcane process in California, how Governor Newsom could be recalled if 51% of people vote against him, but the person who replaces him, which could be Larry Elder, could get something like 18% of the vote.
JEAN GUERRERO: Exactly. It is an incredibly anti-democratic election. Even if Larry Elder only gets, as you mentioned, like far, far fewer votes than Gavin Newsom gets to stay in office —
AMY GOODMAN: Just a plurality, he needs, against the other opponents.
JEAN GUERRERO: Yeah. I’m sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: Just he — he would just need a plurality against the other opponents.
JEAN GUERRERO: Exactly, a plurality. Exactly. And it’s incredibly dangerous. I mean, this whole thing started with anti-immigrant nativists in California who were upset about the pro-immigrant, pro-Latino policies that Gavin Newsom was putting in place. It started with a former deputy sheriff named Orrin Heatlie, who, on Facebook, had called for planting microchips in immigrants and comparing them to animals. So, those are the people who started the recall.
It only gained traction after Gavin Newsom was spotted in a restaurant having dinner with some people that he knew and he wasn’t wearing a mask. He admits that that was a mistake. And, you know, he owns that mistake. But Republicans have used that as propaganda to get support for this recall, and there’s been a lot of misinformation around it, but also just general discontent about the pandemic that people are sort of putting on Governor Gavin Newsom.
The problem is that the alternative to Newsom is Larry Elder, who has received, so far, the most support. And he is a right-wing talk show host who, as I write in my book, mentored Stephen Miller, the anti-immigrant nativist who is the reason that people in Afghanistan who died could still be alive today if he hadn’t spent four years blocking the admission of refugees, and bragging about it, you know, recently at a conservative conference, saying that he was very proud to have slashed refugee admissions to historic lows. Larry Elder introduced him to this idea that it’s not racist to deny the fact of systemic racism. And he’s put out this idea, to the delight of many white audiences, Larry Elder has, that he’s this Black man, and because he’s Black, he can deny the fact of systemic racism. And he uses false statistics from a white supremacist named Jared Taylor, who, as I write in my column, he repeatedly cited in early writings. As recently as 2016, he was pulling content from a white nationalist website called VDARE.
So, this is a person — he wants to attack all of the progress that California has made on immigrant rights. He wants to attack sanctuary laws. He wants to attack healthcare for undocumented immigrants. He wants to attack investments in public schools that Gavin Newsom has made, that have hugely benefited communities of color. So he basically wants to take California back to the 1990s, when we saw an incredibly anti-immigrant and anti-Black decade in California.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Larry Elder says if he is elected governor of California, he will repeal mask and vaccine mandates immediately. This is Elder.

LARRY ELDER: When I become governor, assuming the — I appreciate your help in this [inaudible]. When I become governor, assuming there are still mandates for vaccines and mandate for face masks, they will be repealed before I have my first cup of tea.

AMY GOODMAN: Jean Guerrero?
JEAN GUERRERO: You know, this idea of repealing all mask and COVID vaccine mandates is incredibly concerning to communities of color in California, who have already borne the brunt of this pandemic in terms of death toll, in terms of everything. And so, everything that he’s planning to do, on a broad level, in relation to COVID, in relation to climate change — for example, he says that he doesn’t want to do anything about climate change. He even believes in investing in more fracking. All of these things would disproportionately impact the most marginalized communities in California, who have made significant progress in recent years, thanks to governors like Gavin Newsom prioritizing their needs and really listening and sitting down and hearing them out.
But it’s so important to understand that what’s happening in California could have national repercussions. We’re talking about a state that has led the charge against Trumpism, has led the charge in terms of immigrant rights and protecting immigrant communities, helping immigrant communities feel safe interacting with the police and reporting crimes without fear of deportation. We’re talking about a state that has made significant advances on racial justice. A deep blue state. If the Republicans succeed in flipping that state with this anti-democratic election, it will have catastrophic implications nationally. In terms of immigration reform in Congress, it could stall that. It would embolden other anti-immigrant, xenophobic governors in other states to really go after the Latino community. And it’s just a part of the Republican Party’s effort to just overturn democracy and the will of the voters —
AMY GOODMAN: So, Jean —
JEAN GUERRERO: — through whatever means.
AMY GOODMAN: Jean Guerrero, you wrote, you know, the headline of your latest piece in the L.A. Times, “Gavin Newsom has been one of the most pro-Latino governors in California history, and he’s under attack for it.” You’ve also said that Democratic outreach to Latino voters on the California recall election is not working. So, I mean, do people even realize this is happening?
JEAN GUERRERO: No, they don’t. I mean, that’s the problem, is the communities who have the most to lose right now are kind of checked out because of the fact that we have suffered so much under the pandemic — I mean, just, you know, essential workers who have had to keep going to work, and they have fatigue from the pandemic. They have fatigue from Trumpism and the rise in hate crimes that occurred under the administration. So, a lot of young Latinos, in particular, who I’ve been speaking with are just kind of tuning this out. Like, it’s just too much for them. But it’s so important that they are the ones — I mean, they need to turn out in order for this election to not overturn the will of the voters. I mean, if the only people who turn out are the far-right, white supremacist minorities in California, then we have a serious problem for these communities.
And the problem is that even though Newsom has been doing incredible work for these communities, they haven’t done a good job of messaging, messaging all of the advances that have been made, including unprecedented investment in our public education system, providing two years of free community college for first-time students, lowering the cost of textbooks — really great things that benefit not just undocumented Latinos, but Latinos, working-class Latinos, and communities of color overall.
So there needs to be a better job of messaging how horrible this could be, even just as far as like the rhetoric alone that Larry Elder would bring into our state. He told us, told the Los Angeles Times, as I wrote in my column, that he plans to use the, quote-unquote, “bully pulpit,” that he doesn’t believe in humanizing terms like “undocumented” or “immigrant.” He wants to use harsh terms like “illegal aliens.” And that would just send people back into the shadows and reverse the incredible progress that has been made in the state. And it would embolden the same in state after state after state. So, it is so important for people to vote. And if you’re not in California, tell your friends who are in California to vote no, because this could have serious implications.
AMY GOODMAN: Jean, talk about the implications for the balance of the Senate, as well. Of course, it was Gavin Newsom who chose Kamala Harris’s replacement when she became vice president. Now you’re talking about Dianne Feinstein. And talk about the significance of if her seat is vulnerable and what would it mean in this period if there were a Republican governor.
JEAN GUERRERO: Exactly. So, the governor has the power to appoint a replacement for Dianne Feinstein if anything were to happen to her, you know, if she were to retire or if anything else happened to her. You know, she’s elderly. And so, that is a real possibility, that he would appoint someone who does not represent the values of California or Californians, and would tip the balance of the Senate.
So, it would make it impossible for President Biden to push through the policy goals that he has put forth, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of helping communities across the United States in ways that the Republicans oppose. So, there are real, real implications. Like, even though it would just be a year and a half in office and they would probably be voted out in the next election, they could do significant harm by — you know, Larry Elder says that he plans to use his veto power to cut funding to all of these programs that he opposes, including healthcare for our undocumented seniors, which has allowed them to, you know, stay alive. And many of the Latinos here, we have mixed-status families, so this affects us all.
AMY GOODMAN: Jean, I want to thank you so much for being with us. Jean Guerrero is a Los Angeles Times columnist. Her latest column, “Gavin Newsom has been one of the most pro-Latino governors in California history, and he’s under attack for it.” She’s author of Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda. It’s out in paperback this week.
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Adriano Contreras. Our general manager is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe. Wear a mask.