LOS ANGELES - This week, America tallied its 500,000th coronavirus-related death.
Despite that grim milestone, signs of hope have begun to emerge, as new case and hospitalization rates continue to drop, all while vaccine distribution continues to rise.
As the country looks ahead, debates, however, continue to rage in the Golden State about safely reopening schools, the most effective and equitable ways to tranche out vaccines, and whether or not the Governor should be recalled for his handling of the pandemic.
To explore these issues, and more, Elex Michaelson is joined by the Governor himself, Gavin Newsom (D), as well as a panel of political reporters, Emily Hoeven of Cal Matters, Alexei Koseff of the San Francisco Chronicle, and John Myers of the LA Times.
THE ISSUE: REOPENING CALIFORNIA’S SCHOOLS
BACKGROUND: Should California schools reopen once districts have entered the state’s "red tier," or should they be able to reopen while still in the more restrictive "purple tier"? Should all teachers and school staff be vaccinated before returning to campus? What about the students themselves? Nearly a year after students in California were sent home, the fight over how to safely bring many, especially younger students, back, continues.
NEWSOM’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I agree with the CDC, I agree with Dr. Fauci, I agree with the President of the United States, that that would be optimal, that that would be ideal, but that should not be the limiting factor in terms of being able to get our youngest kids safely back in school… so, I think, frankly, at this stage, there’s nothing that’s holding us back, it’s a question now of leadership. Get it done… You’re seeing places like Long Beach, they’re starting to get it done, we can get it done. TK-2, 3-6, special needs, foster, homeless kids, we can do this, we can do it safely…"
THE ISSUE: THE FUTURE OF CALIFORNIA
BACKGROUND: To date, the Golden State has experienced more than 3.5 million positive COVID infections and 51,000 resulting deaths. And while conditions are improving, as of this week some 95.9% of California residents are still in the state’s most restrictive reopening tier, a fact which helps to explain why, as of December, California had the third highest unemployment rate in the nation. However, despite those bleak statistics, Newsom told Michaelson he is optimistic about his state’s future.
NEWSOM’S CENTRAL TAKE: "We’re a remarkable place… The fact is, Bloomberg came out with their innovation index, California is still number one. 2020, more venture capital in California than 2019. We had all these new IPOs in the state. We’re running surpluses that allow me to say this, we have the highest reserves in California history, we’re putting billions of dollars back in the pockets of the most vulnerable Californians… we’ve gotten 23,000 people off the street, the homeless, we have tons of more work to do in that place. We have a housing strategy, a housing plan, we lead the nation in low-carbon green growth… I’m incredibly optimistic about this state, a few more months, we get through this transition, get this behind us, and this state’s ready to take off and dominate in terms of some of the most exciting and enlivening industries in this world…"
THE ISSUE: BEHIND THE BATTLE OVER REOPENING CA’S SCHOOLS
BACKGROUND: Last week, California legislators released SB86, the "Safe and Open Schools" plan, a $6.6 billion plan that set out to re-open K-6 schools in the state’s "red tier" by April 15. The plan, which garnered the support of the state’s largest school districts, and sought to accommodate the unions, was rebuffed by the Governor who called it a "step in the right direction," but said it "doesn’t go far enough or fast enough."
MYER’S CENTRAL TAKE: "First of all, there’s a patchwork of schools that are open and not open, hybrid-mode, full distance learning mode… the fundamental issue that we’ve had up until now has been the access of vaccine doses for teachers and school employees, that has had some movement moving forward… but we still have this disagreement about what the conditions have to be in a community for more schools to open up…"
HOEVEN’S CENTRAL TAKE: "At the end of the day, he risks alienating either one of his biggest supporters, or alienating parents that could potentially vote against him if the recall qualifies for the ballot, so he has a lot of political balancing to do here…"
KOSEFF’S CENTRAL TAKE: "It’s still an open question at this point. The timeline that they’re talking about at this moment, schools might still not even open until April, some might not open altogether this year… time is sort of running short, and despite their promises to try and get something done within the next few weeks, even if they do that, there’s just not much of a runway for them to get kids back to school in this school year…"
THE ISSUE: THE POTENTIAL RECALL ELECTION OF GOVERNOR NEWSOM
BACKGROUND: This week, organizers of the effort to recall Governor Newsom announced they had collected more than 1.8 million signatures in the quest to qualify for the ballot. With the prospect of a recall election looking more likely, the panel, including Koseff, who last year broke the story of Newsom’s dinner at the French Laundry, discuss how that infamous dinner caused the recall campaign to snowball, how this effort compares to the 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis, and how, facing growing opposition, Newsom’s own strategy has changed.
KOSEFF’S CENTRAL TAKE: "I certainly couldn’t have imagined that it would turn out to be as big of a deal as it did. When I got the tip about this dinner, obviously, it was a very intriguing thing, because at the time, we were headed back towards a more serious situation with the virus, the Governor had been emphasizing, really wanting people to not get together between households, and it seemed like an example of him violating the spirit of those rules he’d been asking everybody else to follow… watching it spiral so quickly into something more than that, into a rallying cry for people who found it to be symbolic of their greater frustrations with his approach to governing, it took me by surprise…"
MYER’S CENTRAL TAKE: "It crystallized the frustration that Californians had, it gave them something very demonstratively there in front of their faces… the dinner that the Governor went to, the schools, the vaccination roll out, the Governor’s got to be very careful over the next few weeks, because he’s got to show people that he’s making things better, or a recall election, that probably will get on the ballot, only gets more and more steam, the snowball effect, these things can happen very quickly…"
HOEVEN’S CENTRAL TAKE: "For months, he was giving these remote press conferences, people had to call in remotely to ask him questions, and then the past couple weeks he’s been going on this mass vaccination, almost stadium tour, going to a different city or county almost everyday, sometimes two in a day, taking questions directly from reporters, making public appearances… even this past week, his rhetoric has become very optimistic…"
The Issue Is: with Elex Michaelson is California's only statewide political show. For showtimes and more information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.