LOS ANGELES — With a recall effort increasingly likely, California Gov. Gavin Newsom promises that the state will “roar back” after having suffered devastating setbacks during the coronavirus pandemic.
“California won’t come crawling back. We will roar back,” Newsom said in his annual State of the State address Tuesday evening at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Wednesday, Newsom said in an interview that he is focusing on being governor of the most populous state in the country and shrugged off any suggestion that the recall campaign is tied to his job performance during the pandemic, which has infected more than 3.6 million residents and killed nearly 55,000 people, the highest death toll of any state, according to NBC News counts.
“The reality is that the [recall] process started well before this pandemic,” Newsom said. “This is part of being governor in California.”
Since 1913, there have been 179 recall attempts in California. Fifty-five targeted the governor, and only one was successful. Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, was recalled in 2003 and succeeded by Hollywood icon Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. That was also the last time California had a Republican governor.
Opponents of Newsom must submit at least 1.5 million signatures by next Wednesday to force an election this year. Randy Economy, a member of the Recall Gavin 2020 campaign, said the effort had already collected nearly 2 million signatures.
The state secretary of state’s office will verify the signatures, and it could release the final tally as early as next week.
Economy said Newsom’s address was “farcical” and “a waste of taxpayer money.”
“It was a sham,” Economy said. “He tried to be a Hollywood mover and shaker with his dramatics, and it was a complete failure.”
Unlike in his previous State of the State addresses, Newsom this week focused on his accomplishments over the last year and tried to paint a rosy picture of California’s resurgence. He avoided technocratic jargon and instead rattled off a list of the state’s achievements.
He defended California’s response to the pandemic, pointing out that it was the first state to shut down when the coronavirus began to spread. Newsom said his office “agonized” over having to make difficult decisions, such as closing schools and certain types of businesses. The strict rules limiting which businesses could open led to the state’s losing 1.6 million jobs last year, The Associated Press reported.
On Tuesday, Newsom also highlighted the state’s commitment to equitable vaccine distribution, including reserving 40 percent of doses for underserved communities.
But, he told NBC News, more needs to be done to ensure that people who have been hit the hardest by Covid-19 have access to the vaccines.
“At the end of the day, this country is failing in terms of the equity metric,” he said. “We’re failing.”
Newsom, who said he is especially focused on jump-starting the economy, signed a measure that included a $7.6 billion coronavirus relief package to send $600 direct payments to low-income residents. The plan also includes immediate relief for small businesses.
Small-business owners are among the most vocal people coming out against Newsom in the recall effort. He has been accused of forcing businesses to close permanently by not reopening certain segments of the economy, such as restaurants, more quickly.
“All of us had to meet that moment, and there were sacrifices,” he said. “That’s why we’re doing direct relief for families that have been impacted by this pandemic.”
He said states that reopened sooner, such as Texas and Florida, were “reckless,” and he doubled down on his commitment to gradually lift health guidelines in accordance with standards established by public health officials.
CORRECTION (March 10, 2021, 9:45 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the deadline to submit signatures in support of the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom. The deadline is March 17, not March 16.
Alicia Victoria Lozano is a California-based reporter for NBC News focusing on climate change, wildfires and the changing politics of drug laws.