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Newsom lost big in California's conservative State of Jefferson. It barely mattered

It was a rough morning in the State of Jefferson.

Gov. Gavin Newsom may have coasted to an easy victory in the recall, but the results look very different in the sparsely populated northeastern reaches of the state. Here, conservative Republican politics dominate and disgust at California's liberal establishment has prompted a movement to break away into a 51st state.

With the exception of Nevada County, every county north and east of Sacramento saw voters vote "yes" to recall Newsom, in some cases overwhelmingly, according to preliminary vote totals from the California Secretary of State.

The disparity is most striking in Lassen County, where nearly 83% voted to oust the Democratic governor.

"The people I've talked to are highly disappointed in the statewide results," said Richard Egan, a cattle rancher who serves as the county's administrative officer. "But I think that just reflects how different we are in Northern California versus the urban populated areas in terms of our political positions."

Egan said residents in Lassen County, population 30,500, were driven to recall Newsom out of frustrations with his handling of the pandemic, wildfires and even the state's wolf-protection policies. Cattle ranching is a major local industry and ranchers such as Egan are frustrated by California continuing to protect wolves under the state's Endangered Species Act.

The county almost certainly would have voted to recall Newsom this year, given recent voter trends.

Some 74% of the county's voters chose Donald Trump in the last election — the most in California — but Egan said anti-Newsom sentiment is particularly high in Lassen this year because of another key issue affecting the local economy: The state prison system.

Loss of prison jobs fuel resentment

Lassen County is home to two state prisons, High Desert and the California Correctional Center, which like many prisons and jails saw COVID outbreaks last year. "The State Department of Corrections brought COVID into Lassen County and bungled the entire COVID process as far as we can see here in Lassen," Egan said.

Then, earlier this year, the Newsom administration announced it was closing the California Correctional Center in 2022, a move that would eliminate about 1,000 local jobs.

With the closure, Susanville, the county seat, could lose more than a quarter of its workforce — jobs that pay upwards of $90,000 in some cases in a county lacking in well-paying careers. The proposal prompted Susanville's leaders to sue to try to stop the closure. A judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the prison closure for the time being.

"There's no way that we can reabsorb 1,000 jobs," Lassen County Supervisor Aaron Albaugh said Wednesday. "Why didn't they close down San Quentin, the oldest prison in the state? I mean that area down there could absorb 1,000-2,000 jobs pretty easily."

Closing the Lassen County prison is expected to save the state $122 million and is part of Newsom's push to reform the correctional system into a place where inmates are rehabilitated to transition back to society.

Some prison reformers have advocated keeping San Quentin open in Marin County since it has some of the state's best rehabilitation programs, thanks largely to its proximity to a major city with people who can provide special services.

Doubts about voter fraud persist

But Albaugh said that the prison closures — along with his COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates — had Lassen County residents feeling that Newsom had at the very least gone "way overboard" if not singled the county out because of its politics.

"It's all about power and control," Albaugh said. "And that goes back and ties right into what he did to us with the prison closure. ... There's no transparency. There's no reason. There's no logic to it. It's all petty vindictiveness on his part."

Like many Republicans who believe the debunked claims that widespread voter fraud led to Trump's loss last year, Albaugh said he was unsure that California's mail-in recall results could even be trusted.

"I saw a deal on YouTube where the return mail in ballots, you could actually see the 'yes' vote," Albaugh said. "Our envelopes (in Lassen) weren't like that. I don't know. There's so much corruptness within our political system today. It's just amazing."

It should be noted that California Republicans still picked up four congressional seats during the 2020 elections, despite Trump's overwhelming loss in the state's general election. Trump on Tuesday in a statement insisted, without evidence, that California's election process was somehow "rigged" against him.

Egan, however, said he doesn't doubt the results.

"I think the governor used all of his power to influence the way that the election was conducted, and that very well may have influenced the results," Egan said. "But at the end of the day, elections are conducted at a county-wide level by elected county officials. And I think we have to trust that those elected officials are doing the right thing in terms of ballot counting."

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