Workers Comp Zone


Will Gavin Newsom be recalled, and what does the recall mean for California workers’ comp?

California voters are already starting to mail in their ballots for the September 14 recall election. Although a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court seeks to halt the recall election on a theory alleging it is unconstitutional, the recall election is still on as of the time of this post.

The reliability of polling on this election may be suspect, but the polls appear to be tight. An August 15 CBS News/YouGov poll had remove at 48% and do not remove at 52%. Other recent surveys of “likely voters” had the yes on recall numbers at 47% (LA Times), 46% (Emerson) and 51% (KABC).

A big unknown is who the “likely voters” will be in this election.

Newsom allies are attempting to appeal to the Democratic base with a blizzard of ads. Newsom’s war chest is huge, with massive funding from tech-connected contributors, unions, and others. They note that many of California’s problems aren’t of Newsom’s making and that he inherited terrible problems with the pandemic, a drought, wildfires and homelessness. They believe the recall is a power grab.

Recall proponents will be far outspent, but are relying on an energized Republican base and a sense that many California independent voters aren’t happy with Newsom. They believe that Californians, particularly independents, are terribly unhappy with school and business closures, homelessness, wildfire suppression efforts and crime. In their view, Californians will seek a new direction. They believe there is widespread dislike of Newsom’s preppy persona, and cite his tone deaf actions, dining in fancy restaurants and sending his kids to school and camp while others are closed or masked. Moreover, they are critical of the failures of EDD’s unemployment system under his watch. 

Who will vote?

The 2020 election resulted in slippage of Democratic support among Hispanics in Texas and Florida. It is unclear if the Latino Democratic base will come out in large numbers to support Newsom and oppose the recall. Likewise, will younger Democratic voters and union members take the time to vote in the recall? Will Joe Biden, mired in controversy over the execution of the departure from Kabul, be able to ride to Newsom’s rescue? Will the Democratic Black vote be energized to oppose the recall? How does the presence of a Black replacement candidate affect that turnout? 

So as of mid August, the recall outlook seems fluid.

If the voters support the recall, the leading replacement candidates are both without governing experience. Leading the polls is Republican Larry Elder, a conservative broadcaster. Elder would be the first Black California governor. Second in the polls is Democrat Kevin Paffrath, a Southern California real estate investor and Youtube star.

If Newsom is recalled, what would this mean for California workers’ comp?

Newsom has never articulated much about workers’ comp, and there has been a relatively low level of workers’ comp legislative and regulatory activity during his governorship.

Workers’ comp has not emerged as an issue in the recall, and workers’ comp issues would likely be a low priority for a new governor in the foreseeable future. It is not clear that any of the key comp stakeholders have strong relationships with Elder or Paffrath if they were to prevail.

Governors make appointments, so this would be one aspect of the recall. Unless Newsom fills the empty WCAB slot soon, this would fall to a new Governor.

Although the specific workers’ comp effects are not easy to identify, if Newsom is recalled, it will be a political earthquake. The legislative playing field will shift. Workers advocates will likely find it harder to advance the sort of tweaks to the system they’d like to see.

I suspect that Newsom will prevail, by a thin margin. But stay tuned.

Julius Young