It’s not yet a big issue in the upcoming recall election against Gavin Newsom, but unless the governor changes some steady habits soon, it almost certainly will be:
That’s his pattern of favoring corporations that have been big donors to his campaigns and causes, past and present.
So far, corruption has not been raised as a big reason for dumping Newsom and placing someone else within his office in the state Capitol’s horseshoe-shaped gubernatorial wing. But if Newsom doesn’t change his habits by reversing course at least somewhat, it very well could become one.
For corruption would be a major counterpoint to the governor’s campaign to cast the recall as purely the work of bigoted supporters of the California-unpopular ex-President Donald Trump, who often refer to the coronavirus in terms even more incendiary than Trump did: Some recall organizers have called it the CCP Virus, short for Chinese Communist Party Virus.
That this obscure-seeming message contains a possible impetus toward violent prejudice is obvious to many voters. Tying Newsom to giant corporations known to exploit or even kill their customers is an entirely different matter.
The two corporations that have benefitted more than other donors from Newsom’s actions as governor are Pacific Gas & Electric Co and California Blue Shield. PG&E has donated well over $10 million to Newsom’s campaigns since his first run for San Francisco supervisor in 1998. Meanwhile, the Blue Shield health insurance giant has given more than $22 million to a variety of Newsom campaigns and causes since 2005.
Newsom’s favoritism of PG&E over its customers was never more obvious than after the Camp Fire, which destroyed the Butte County town of Paradise in 2018, producing billions of dollars in valid claims against the company. At least 85 persons died in that fire, caused by faulty PG&E equipment and negligent maintenance, eventually forcing the company to plead guilty to manslaughter charges.
Instead of disappearing in disgrace, like most people or entities that kill 85 innocents, PG&E is now the beneficiary – along with other big California utilities – of a massive state Wildfire Fund to which electric customers statewide involuntarily contribute each month via the bills they pay.
The question: Would a company that had not so actively aided the governor have gotten this benefit, essentially absolving it of most financial responsibility for future fires its negligence may cause? Newsom has never spoken directly about why he so favored the multiply criminal PG&E rather than breaking it up and selling off the pieces to many willing buyers who might conduct business more responsibly. Rather, he has laughed off questions.
Then there’s Blue Shield. Via a secret process, Newsom placed this company and big donor in charge of the state’s vital coronavirus vaccine distribution program and insisted on keeping it in that slot even while most counties were refusing to sign contracts with it.
Blue Shield insists it will get no financial benefit from its vaccine involvement, but there is no doubt that if it can make getting shots easier for Californians, it will reap a public relations and marketing bonanza unavailable to rival companies like Anthem Blue Cross, Aetna, Kaiser Permanente, Health Net or Cigna.
Then there’s the fact that projected costs of the vaccination program rose by about $2 billion soon after Blue Shield began working on it. Who says private industry always does things cheaper and more efficiently than government?
So far, candidates expected to be on the list of potential replacement governors that Californians will see at the polls this fall have not attacked Newsom for any of this, nor for his granting permits to frack for natural gas to other big companies that contribute to his causes.
But it’s a safe bet their campaign managers have not missed any of this, and that it will likely show up in their campaign ads, even though all major candidates so far are Republicans whose usual stances are more pro-corporate than Newsom’s formal positions.
Can Newsom clean up any of his act before the recall campaign heats up in August and September? That depends on whether he is a truly skilled and confident politician, something he has yet to prove about himself.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net