With the 2021 California Gubernatorial recall election now approaching the one-month-to-go mark at the end of this week, major Californian issues are becoming more and more front and center. Governor Gavin Newsom keeps defending his COVID-19 response as Governor, while recall candidates are now focusing on issues such as homelessness, taxes, and the minimum wage.
However, one of the largest issues still stands out: wildfires. Throughout Newsom’s term, he has both poured money into stopping wildfires and halted funds. For example, in April he signed off on a $536 million wildfire suppression package, but then in June severely rolled back wildfire fuel reduction treatments by over $500 million. Newsom has also taken to visiting areas destroyed by wildfires as publicity stops, such as visiting an area ravaged by the North Complex Fire last year to sign an inmate firefighter bill, as well as taking multiple interviews this weekend in the remains of Greenville, which was destroyed by the Dixie Fire earlier this month.
While recall candidates have not jumped on the issue, they have all generally at least shown some preference in increasing wildfire reduction funding. Many wildfire fighters, who have also joined in battling wildfires across the West and even in Australia, have begun to signal preference for recalling Newsom due to the lack of more funding. California had to ask other states and countries like Australia and Canada to return the favor and help them out with fires last year, showing significant gaps in funding. The size of the Dixie Fire in Northern California, now the second largest wildfire in California history, has brought the funding question up again this year as wildfire fighters are struggling to put out the blaze.
“No one has asked us that before,” said volunteer wildfire fighter Angelo Sorola to the Globe from Plumas County on Monday. “But, yeah, all of us from California are planning to vote to recall him. I don’t know who we are all thinking of picking to replace him, but the feeling is we want him out and someone who will actually support us go in. We don’t speak for all firefighters, obviously, but I’ve talked with groups around the state about this today and everyone who said that they are voting said they don’t want him in.”
Two other firefighters who did not wish to be named in Lassen County gave a similar story, with them only adding that most wildfire fighters right now were more concerned with extinguishing the fire rather than voting.
“We have people to save first,” said of of the anonymous fires. “That’s the priority.”
For residents who have fled wildfires in recent years across the state, a similar recall phenomenon is happening.
“I’m not asking all of these people in need of help how they are voting,” began Claire Harper, who has helped find temporary shelter for wildfire victims in the last several years, to the Globe. “But every single family has expressed disappointment that the state couldn’t do anymore. I did notice a shift last year though. They weren’t mad at the state anymore. They changed that to Newsom. They began calling him out by name.”
“Two major things are happening. Climate change is making these fires worse, and more people have put the blame from California to the Governor. I began to see it in 2019, but it really became apparent last year and I’m noticing it again this year. This didn’t happen when Brown was in office either. It just fell this way.”
Wildfires and the recall
Worsening wildfires have already begun to have an effect. While wildfire-affected North Country counties such as Plumas and Butte are strongly Republican and a shift in votes has not really been seen, wildfire ravaged counties on the North Coast, usually a Democratic stronghold, are now slightly leaning towards recalling Newsom. While many factors are at play here, such as the drought hitting the area hard and hurting many locals, the intensity of wildfires has also been a major factor in swinging votes. And, according to experts, they aren’t the only ones.
“Wildfires threaten Los Angeles, a lot of the Bay area, forested areas near Sacramento, and forested areas near San Diego,” explained former lobbyist Harry Schultz to the Globe on Monday. “Last year we had LA landmarks nearly being destroyed by fires and fires around San Francisco being so bad that the sky glowed orange. This is not just an issue that affects Northern Californian voters.”
“What we’re seeing are more and more people being affected by these fires and being hurt by policies under Newsom. Is Newsom responsible for the fires? No, of course not. Nor is he responsible for the response, taking them out, and more. What he can be accountable for is the more longer-term effects, such as helping funnel money into programs and approving wildfire plans. And although he has done that, many feel that it hasn’t been enough or that he has been targeting the wrong things.”
“Recall candidates will probably talk more about this in coming weeks, especially if the Dixie fire grows more or a wildfire sparks outside a major city. And for every fire, you’re going to have more and more people against Newsom. They’re blaming him personally now for some of these failings. He’s been trying to get a lid on it through personal visits to areas burned up by these fires, but these visits don’t mean anything if you can’t put forward help. And that’s why more and more people in these wildfire-burned areas are trying to get him recalled. His policies either haven’t worked or haven’t done enough.”
The recall election will be held on September 14th. Mail-in ballots are due to go out soon.