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PD Editorial: Voters send a resounding message

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

Voters in California and Sonoma County were delivering an unequivocal message as returns rolled in from Tuesday’s special election. They said no.

No to recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom.

No to ousting District Attorney Jill Ravitch.

And, it appears likely, no to fireworks in Rohnert Park.

Newsom, a Democrat, easily turned back an opportunistic challenge from Republicans and critics of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic to survive California’s second gubernatorial recall and the fourth in U.S. history.

He benefited from a huge Democratic advantage in voter registration and a stepped-up get-out-the-vote operation after a midsummer poll detected an enthusiasm gap — Republicans seemed more motivated to vote in the recall election than Democrats. However, if early returns hold up, Newsom could finish with a bigger share of the vote than he won in 2018.

But don’t expect a respite from partisan warfare. Newsom is up for reelection next year, and some of his recall challengers are likely to immediately shift their focus on 2022. He will too.

Here in Sonoma County, voters weren’t taken in by an innuendo-filled smear campaign to unseat Ravitch, the county’s chief prosecutor since 2011.

In the first set of returns, which included ballots from almost half of the county’s 305,000 registered voters, more than 80% turned thumbs-down on the recall.

The one-sided vote was shaping up as a crushing defeat for Bill Gallaher, a senior living mogul, real estate developer and bank chairman who was the sole donor for a $1.7 million direct mail and social media blitz that clearly missed its target.

Ravitch described the results as “vindication.” Fellow prosecutors, North Bay elected officials and even criminal defense lawyers helped refute the deceptive attacks on her character and record — and many voters questioned why Gallaher would spend a seven-figure sum on a recall campaign.

The timing hardly seemed coincidental. The district attorney and state attorney general jointly sued three Gallaher-owned companies that operated two senior living facilities in Fountaingrove where residents were abandoned by staff during the Tubbs fire in 2017. The recall petition was filed less than two months after the lawsuit was settled for $500,000 — and about a week after Ravitch announced plans to retire when her term expires next year.

Had this vengeful recall succeeded, it would have sent a chilling message to other elected officials about what might happen to them if they held a rich person accountable.

Ravitch can instead complete her third and final term with a strong endorsement from Sonoma County voters.

If there was a surprise in Tuesday’s results, it was in Rohnert Park.

Measure D, which would ban the sale and possession of fireworks, was ahead by a landslide margin of 58% to 42% with 9,800 votes counted out of 26,000 registered voters.

Opponents quickly gathered enough signatures to force an election after the City Council voted in April to outlaw fireworks sales. But mail ballot returns in Rohnert Park lagged behind the rest of the county, suggesting a surprising lack of engagement with what was expected to be a hotly contested issue. Barring a late surge, it won’t be easy for opponents to overcome a 16-point gap.

If there was a highlight in Tuesday’s election, it was an usually large voter turnout for a special election. Voters recognized the importance of this election, and they refused to allow California’s recall system — which we’ll discuss further in a subsequent editorial — to be abused for personal or partisan purposes.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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