Newsom's beach closures are distraction for Cal budget collapse

California's Gov. Gavin Newsom's closure of Orange County beaches is an effort to distract the public from the state's "tens of billions of dollars" financial free fall.

Newsom's April 30 executive order closing Orange County beaches to stop the coronavirus sparked a series of viral protests this weekend that brought out thousands of mostly young and very angry demonstrators shouting "U-S-A" and waving "Freedom: We the people" and "Recall Gavin Newsom" signs.

OC beach closures distracted the public from Newsom's real crisis, which is a tanking state budget that he just acknowledged has gone from a "$21.4 billion budget surplus" to "tens of billions of dollars in deficit," according to Bloomberg.

Newsom knows that with polls claiming that 80% of Americans are still in support of closing nonessential businesses, America's 50 governors have been the biggest political winners for handling the COVID-19 pandemic.  According to a new Harvard/Northeastern/Rutgers study, governors received a 66-percent average approval rating for handling of the outbreak, versus a 44-percent approval for President Trump.

The Harvard study found that Newsom had one of the highest scores for "Reacting about right" to the COVID-19 outbreak with a score of 78, three points higher than the score of 75 for New York governor Andrew Cuomo.  The two lowest scoring governors in the survey were Florida governor Ron DeSantis with a score of 60 and Hawaii governor David Ige with a score of 55 — both were blamed for failing to close beaches.

Newsom's rise is especially impressive, given that the average of the Morning ConsultMonmouth University, and Quinnipiac University pre-pandemic poll approval rating of just 42 percent, 5 points lower than the 47 percent for Cuomo.  Newsom's response to the pandemic kicked his approval up by 41 points, versus a 31-percent gain for Cuomo.

Orange County sheriff Don Barnes responded to the governors' order by stating: "The photographs I saw, quite honestly, were a stark contrast to what the governor's acting on."  Sheriff Barnes emphasized: "I have no desire to enforce ... through arrest."

Newsom has the authority to use California state troopers, park rangers, and the National Guard to enforce his beach closures, but he risks confrontations with frustrated young people that could quickly get out of control and then turn violent.

Responding to Vietnam War protests 50 years ago, popular Ohio governor James A. Rhodes declared a "state of emergency" and then sent in the National Guard to restore order on May 2.  The 1,000 National Guard troopers and the students kept their distance for two days.  But with classes resuming on May 4, antiwar protestors screamed, "Pigs off campus" and hurled rocks at 75 advancing Guardsmen brandishing rifles with bayonets.  Twenty-nine soldiers eventually opened fire, killing four of the students and creating a national crisis.

Newsom knows the risks he faces if the Orange County protests create a violent confrontation.  But he also is keenly aware that former vice president Joe Biden's bid for the Democrat Party presidential nomination may collapse over "#MeToo" sexual assault charges by former staffer Tara Reade after a disastrous MSNBC interview when Biden refused to allow access to 1,875 boxes of documents and 415 gigabytes of electronic records from his Senate tenure now held at the University of Delaware.

Newsom appears to be the Democrats' most competitive replacement if Biden continues to stumble and he could use the campaign to attack President Trump for refusing to agree to a $1 trillion state of local government bailout.

California's non-partisan legislative analyst Gabriel Petek told state senators on April 30 that the 2020–21 budget shortfall would total about $35 billion in 2020–21 and could metastasize to an additional $85 billion in the following years.

But with temperatures rising and tens of thousands of young people embittered by the statewide coronavirus lockdown, Gavin Newsom had better hope those beach protests do not turn violent and destroy his political future.