Is Kevin Faulconer California's Next (Scrawny) Schwarzenegger?

Former San Diego Mayor: 'You can't underestimate the frustration of California families right now'

California gubernatorial candidate Kevin Faulconer (R.) / Getty Images
February 20, 2021

Under normal circumstances, a California conservative like Kevin Faulconer would stand little chance of toppling Governor Gavin Newsom (D.), the polished product of San Francisco's powerful political machine. But after nearly 12 months of harsh lockdowns and shuttered schools, the state's political landscape is anything but normal.

"You can't underestimate the anger and frustration of California families right now," Faulconer told the Washington Free Beacon.

The former two-term San Diego mayor launched his campaign to succeed Newsom in early February, promising a "California comeback" centered on common-sense policies. The timing proved opportune: Just two weeks later, Republicans called for a corruption investigation into Newsom over no-bid contracts the Democrat awarded to campaign donors. And with a recall effort against Newsom sweeping the state, Faulconer is eager to capitalize on what is undoubtedly the best chance for a Republican to take the governor's mansion since Arnold Schwarzenegger's recall win nearly two decades ago.

Fed-up residents launched the long-shot recall petition in June. It began as a modest effort, amassing roughly 55,000 signatures by November 5. Just one day later, however, Newsom committed a term-defining blunder—he attended a lobbyist-filled party at the luxurious French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, violating his own coronavirus restrictions in the process. Even NFL star and California native Aaron Rodgers joined the pile-on as signatures skyrocketed, reaching 1.5 million in February, according to activists.

"In the midst of all the lockdowns, to see that happen? That really struck a nerve for Californians across the state," Faulconer said. "It's the classic 'do as I say, not as I do' hypocrisy. There was a lot of frustration already, but that sent it into the stratosphere."

The incident did serious damage to Newsom's COVID credibility, but it did not stop the Democrat from instituting additional shutdown measures. Newsom ordered a 10 p.m. curfew, closed outdoor playgrounds, and shuttered outdoor dining all within weeks of his French Laundry outing, sparking outrage from many small business owners, who refused to comply. Faulconer railed against the governor's "constantly changing metrics," describing the orders as draconian and ineffective.

"The governor shut down outdoor dining with absolutely no science showing that outdoor dining was contributing to the spread and transmission of COVID-19," he said. "We had businesses that were open and shut four different times because of the conflicting measures. The goalposts kept changing."

Newsom has also struggled on school reopenings, an issue Faulconer hopes will be the driving force of his unlikely recall campaign. The Republican held a Wednesday news conference at San Francisco's Abraham Lincoln High School, where school board members have postponed discussions on in-person learning as they work to rename the school in order to "dismantle symbols of racism and white supremacy culture."

Newsom attempted to intervene with a December plan aimed at opening California schools by mid-February. The deadline passed with little progress—"another broken promise," according to Faulconer. The state legislature is now pushing its own reopening bill that would resume in-person instruction in April, but Newsom says the legislation "doesn't go far enough or fast enough." As pressure mounts, there is evidence that the delay could resonate with voters in the state's bluest cities—San Francisco, with the blessing of its Democratic mayor, recently sued its own school district to force open classroom doors.

"There are no results. There's rhetoric and virtue signaling and failed plans," Faulconer said. "A computer screen is no substitute for a classroom. California kids are falling behind, and there's absolutely no reason for it."

Faulconer emphasizes that the campaign is about more than just Newsom's failed leadership. He plans to run on his own record as San Diego mayor to woo an overwhelmingly Democratic population. He spearheaded initiatives that saw the city rank among the nation's best in safety and cleanliness—all while working with a city council comprised almost entirely of Democrats. Under Faulconer’s leadership, homelessness went down in the past two years, and home prices soared at the third quickest rate in the nation. He said the same policies that drove San Diego's success could help California turn the tide on the mass exodus of residents and businesses in the past decade.

"I can't say enough how many folks and companies are looking to leave California. My job as governor would be to keep them here," Faulconer said. "We're so proud of San Diego, we're so proud of California’s innovation and spirit. But you don't see that same spirit in our state government."

Faulconer sees San Diego as a "microcosm of California," expressing confidence that his bipartisan experience will resonate with disgruntled voters in both urban and rural areas.

"Ten years of one-party rule in Sacramento has failed us," Faulconer said. "It's time to replace the status quo."

The deadline for the recall petition is March 17.