On final day, Californians cast votes to keep, oust governor

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Camille Teran-Grange, a volunteer at polling place at the Montecito Heights Senior Citizen Center in Los Angeles, adds balloons to voter information placards on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

California voters headed to the polls Tuesday to cast final ballots in an election focused on whether Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom should keep his job.

Voters were asked to answer whether Newsom should stay in his post and if he doesn't, who should replace him. Dozens of candidates, most of them Republicans, are running for the seat.

Many Californians voted in recent weeks by dropping off their ballots at designated boxes or by mail. Others chose to cast their ballots at vote centers on Tuesday, the last day to do so.

Here are some of their stories:


Erica Taylor, 47, works at San Francisco’s Department of Public Health and said she voted against the recall, which she found to be a waste of money.

She said she supports Newsom and likes how he has handled the pandemic.

“At the end of the day politicians are humans. They are held up on this high pedestal, but underneath all of that we’re all humans and make mistakes,” she said.

A native San Franciscan, Taylor said she has supported Newsom since he began his political career in the city.

“I’ve worked with this man here at the Bill Graham (Civic Auditorium) doing Project Homeless Connect, so he is definitely a person who gets out in his community,” she said.


Maricela Ruiz, 43, is a Democrat who voted against the recall. In case the recall effort were to succeed, Ruiz said she voted for cannabis consultant Jacqueline McGowan as Newsom's replacement.

“I want Democrats to continue in California,” the Los Angeles caregiver said outside a polling place at the Montecito Heights Senior Citizen Center.

Ruiz said her top concern is homelessness, but she believes Newsom is “trying his best to clean up the streets.”

She is open to the idea of another Democrat challenging Newsom in 2022 to get fresh ideas.

She said she has heard conspiracy theories about the election’s integrity but does not believe them. “It’s very silly,” she said.


Bradley Pierce, 21, voted against recalling Newsom at a high school in San Diego in a diverse neighborhood with a large refugee population.

“I was unnerved by the chance of somebody who supports a more conservative agenda becoming governor,” said Pierce, who is studying education at San Diego State University.

He said he did not check any box for a candidate to replace Newsom in case he is in fact recalled. He said the Democrats seeking to replace him all have little experience.

Pierce said he believes Newsom has handled the pandemic well. He also likes what Newsom has promised to do about homelessness and improving public education in the state.


Joe Cusumano, 77, who is a registered Democrat but has voted Republican in recent years, wants a new governor.

The San Diego barber said his feelings toward Newsom are the same as those toward President Joe Biden. “They don’t know how to delegate power,” he said. “Newsom still has a lot to learn."

Cusumano used to cut the hair of former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who he described as “a San Diego man, someone who is decent.”

But he doesn’t believe he would be the best Republican to replace Newsom. He said he favors conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who he finds more charismatic.

“Larry Elder has a little more knowledge than the others,” he said.


Briana Mendoza, 30, said the last thing California needs is more turmoil. The San Diego social worker said she voted against recalling Newsom.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Why would we recall the governor who has been really trying to curb the spread of the virus?” she said. “I am a big fan of the mask, testing and vaccine mandates.”

Mendoza said she sees the recall effort as the “backlash” of a small minority of Republicans toward a firmly Democratic state.

Mendoza said she is not worried about the recall effort succeeding, but she also made sure to cast her ballot. “We don’t want Elder in office,” she said. “This is ridiculous. We just got Trump out. We don’t want a Trump puppet.”


Than Nguyen, 66, said he voted to recall Newsom over his comment last year that the coronavirus spread through a nail salon, which offended many in the Vietnamese American community.

The retiree from the Orange County city of Garden Grove, who came to the country from Vietnam four decades ago, said he doesn’t work in the salon industry but the remark upset him.

“He never corrected it,” Nguyen said after voting in the nearby city of Westminster.

Nguyen said he’s concerned about education and how officials are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

He said he chose Assemblyman Kevin Kiley to replace Newsom since he was an early supporter of the recall and has the backing of some of its original proponents.

“We don’t know much about him, but the main thing is he’s the one to stand up and do the recall,” he said. “I give him the credit for that.”

Kimmi Vuong, 54, said her biggest concerns are the economy and homelessness, and she doesn’t feel Newsom is doing enough on either.

That’s why the hair salon owner from the Orange County city of Westminster said she voted to recall him.

“I think he doesn’t do a good job for this state,” she said. “The economy here is so bad. Every company is moving out of this state.”

Vuong said she has seen many of her salon’s clients leave California over the past year, moving to places such as Arizona and Texas. She said that has hurt her business and yet prices keep rising.

She said she chose Kiley to replace Newsom, adding that she’s a committed Republican and believes in his Republican credentials.

“I think he’s a fair leader and looks out for our community,” she said. “He has more experience. And besides, he’s a true Republican.”


Denise Cain, 51, a Republican homemaker in Lafayette, California, voted to recall Newsom because of “the trash, the homeless, the fires, the bias toward what businesses could be open and which could be closed during COVID and the lockdown,” she said, continuing a long list.

“Let’s see, the schools are a disgrace. Oh, gas prices would be another one,” she said.

She did not vote for Newsom in 2018.

“I’m hoping a replacement candidate will do a better job. I just think this state is in terrible disrepair and something needs to be done,” she said.

She said she voted for Kiley because she feels he is more centrist and she likes his policies. “We need someone to unite this state,” not polarize it, she said.


Eric Fonseca, 63, said he voted against the recall because he supports Newsom and doesn’t want to see a divided California.

“That man has done a lot for the state. He has helped poor people throughout the pandemic, and it’s not fair that the Republicans want to come in and destroy the peace we have in California,” Fonseca said after voting in San Francisco.

Fonseca moved to the city 40 years ago from Nicaragua, when his home country was going through a civil war. He said he voted for Trump in 2016 because he talked about ending authoritarian governments in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.

“It was all lies. He fooled us and didn’t do anything,” Fonseca said.

“Larry Elder is the same thing. He just lies. We don’t want any more lies,” he added.


Janet Webb, 69, of Lafayette, said she voted for the recall and for Elder because of Newsom’s stance on vaccine mandates.

“I am angry. It should be a freedom of choice. What is this, a dictatorship? I’ve had it. I’ve never felt so angry. I’m losing all my friends and family. They don’t want to have anything to do with me right now,” she said.

“If he enforces this, I’m going to have to move out of this state. I can’t live here like this if they’re going to force everyone to get a vaccine," she said. "I do everything right: I take my vitamins, I walk around the reservoir, I eat healthy. I’ve already had the coronavirus, and my immune system is built up already."

She said she was at her daughter-in-law’s baby shower this weekend, and it devolved into such heated arguments with relatives that she had to leave. She said she voted to recall Newsom and replace him with Elder.


Steve Marsh, 75, a retired realtor from the Orange County city of Westminster and a Republican, said he supports the recall and feels Newsom favors too many taxes and too many social programs.

He said he also didn’t like how the governor handled the coronavirus pandemic by closing businesses.

“I just really objected to the whole thing,” he said.

Marsh said he chose Elder to replace Newsom, adding he used to listen to Elder’s radio program and identifies with his conservative views on abortion and social programs.

Marsh said he didn’t expect the recall to succeed in California with so many Democratic voters. But he said he hopes it might stop Newsom from seeking higher office even if it fails.

“I didn’t vote for him in the first place, and I’m voting him out, but I don’t have any hope that California, because there’s so many Democrats, that it would actually change anything,” Marsh said.

Erik Peterson, 52, a Lafayette resident who works in construction, is a Democrat who says he tends to vote Republican.

He said he voted for the recall and to replace Newsom with Elder.

“Newsom’s handling of the pandemic was terrible. He told us to shelter in place and stay home, and he’s out doing fundraisers, unmasked,” he said referring to Newsom’s now infamous meal at the high-end French Laundry restaurant.

“He has to be held accountable for his actions. Look at what happened to Cuomo,” he said of the former governor in New York.

Other issues for him were homelessness and Newsom's policies on gun control, Peterson said.


Alex Ralph, 40, and her partner, Bobby Lang, 33, said they both voted against the recall in Los Angeles.

The self-described progressive couple said they voted for candidate Kevin Paffrath in case the recall succeeds, calling him their “backup Democrat.”

Lang, who works in the food industry, said the governor’s flip-flopping stance on restaurant shutdowns was not helpful.

“We don’t want Larry Elder, but we’re critical of Newsom’s performance,” Lang said, adding the number of signatures to trigger a recall election should be higher. “We could do a lot better.”

Ralph said she didn’t have any names in mind yet to challenge Newsom in 2022. “So much could happen between now and then,” she said.


Chris Williams, 50, a Democrat from Roseville northeast of Sacramento, said he voted to retain Newsom because of his leadership on the pandemic.

“I support vaccinations, I believe in science, I support masks,” he said. “You look at some other states where there are Republican governors, like Florida and Texas, and I think their rates of hospitalizations are skyrocketing.”

As a school administrator himself, he does not support banning masks in schools.

“I like the fact that here in California we support vaccinations and masks. And I also think some of the things that the governor is doing I like. And I also believe the choices for the Republicans are pretty bad,” he said.

Williams also said recalling a governor is an extreme measure and that voters have the opportunity to change their governor through the normal election process.

“We are in a democracy. People have the opportunity to vote every four years,” he said. "So I don’t think Newsom has done anything extreme enough that would warrant a recall.”


Lysa Flores, 48, dropped off her ballot at a polling place at the Montecito Heights Senior Citizen Center in Los Angeles.

She said she voted against the recall but has heard unsubstantiated rumors of ballot boxes being stolen so she wanted to drop it off at a polling place.

“I’m more worried that the Republicans could compromise it somehow,” she said.

Flores said she has agreed with Newsom’s pandemic rules and believes California is being proactive and careful.

“I think he has been making the right moves” to combat the virus, she said.

While she also agrees with other policies of Newsom’s, she said wouldn’t mind seeing him face a challenger in 2022. “I think the more options the better,” she said.


Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, Jocelyn Gecker in Lafayette, Olga R. Rodriguez in San Francisco, Amy Taxin in Westminster, Don Thompson in Roseville and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.