Gov. Gavin Newsom will lead the state of California for another year after defeating the recall effort by a nearly 28-point margin.
While Newsom credited his win to a voter rejection of loosening mask and vaccine mandates, a tenet of G.O.P. frontrunner Larry Elder's campaign, the victory also signals that the state's unusually close ties with the tech industry will go uninterrupted — at least until voters flock to polls again to select a governor on November 8, 2022.
"No is not the only thing that was expressed tonight," Newsom said as the election results became clear. "We said to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic."
The tech industry poured millions into the recall across ideological lines. Wealthy, high-profile leaders such as Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison split over who should lead the world's fifth largest economy, while workers at big tech companies overwhelmingly backed Gov. Newsom. The incumbent governor's committee, Stop the Republican Recall, pulled in nearly $50,000 across hundreds of individual campaign contributions from workers at companies like Amazon and Google.
Early August polls had shown California voters split on whether to recall the incumbent governor, but in recent weeks the scales tipped firmly in Gov. Newsom's favor, according to several polls.
Had Elder won, the Republican frontrunner could have upended the state's outlook on the tech industry. "Big tech is after us and what we believe in. They want to destroy our income because they want to cancel us," the candidate wrote in March, repeating a common yet unsubstantiated claim.
Before election day even arrived, Elder got out ahead of Gov. Newsom's widely anticipated victory by preemptively declaring, without evidence, that his loss was due to voter fraud. California Secretary of State Shirly Weber has called recent election security claims "inaccurate."
Under Newsom, the state is likely to continue its ultra-close relationship with tech. While the governor has expressed a willingness to regulate the industry, showing support for ideas like a data dividend that would force big tech companies to pay people out for selling their data, he's also repeatedly expressed hope that tech can solve humanity's greatest challenges. That includes the climate emergency and the deadly coronavirus.
Newsom's outlook on tech influenced California's pandemic response. Much of the discourse around the recall focused on how mask mandates and other measures widely recommended by health experts impacted residents. But the tech industry played a significant role in the state's COVID-19 strategy too.
Salesforce helped create California's vaccine scheduling tool, which one healthcare expert called a "usability nightmare." Alphabet's Verily Life Sciences won a no-bid coronavirus testing contract that also faced criticism from public health experts. The state's unique alliance with the industry came "at the expense of California's overtaxed and underfunded public health system," public health officials told nonprofit news site California Healthline. As pressure from the Democratically controlled state legislature builds to rein in big tech, Newsom's relationship will be tested.
One of the measures to recently land on the governor's desk is Assembly Bill 701, which requires companies like Amazon to disclose their warehouse productivity quotas amid concerns over unusually high injury rates. Another measure sitting on Newsom's desk is the Silenced No More act, which would ban NDAs in harassment and discrimination cases.
Newsom has not said whether he intends to sign the bills into law and his office declined to comment on the matter, saying the bills will be evaluated based on their merits."We don't anticipate much of a change based on the recall. We are expecting more of the same," said Hayley Tsukayama, a legislative activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights advocacy group. "The governor has always been fairly sympathetic to tech industry interests — certainly on the bills that we've been pushing on privacy, although I will say he's been a good ally on things like broadband access. We don't have a real strong indication that that's going to change significantly," said Tsukayama.
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The tech elite is split over who should lead California, as leaders like Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison duke it out with their checkbooks ahead of the heated recall election. But it's a different story altogether for many of the industry's foot soldiers.
Campaign finance data indicates that workers at big tech companies have overwhelmingly backed Gov. Gavin Newsom over his opponents. That's in line with the broader fundraising trend, as the incumbent governor outraises the competition by a wide margin.
Money may not decide the fate of the election, thanks in part to California's asymmetrical recall system. But as a proxy for support, the hundreds of monetary contributions made by workers at big tech firms highlight the ideological gulf between the industry at large and its leaders, such as former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, who contributed $100,000 to the effort to "Rescue California" from Gov. Newsom.
By the Numbers
According to public campaign contributions data made available by the secretary of state and nonprofit research group MapLight, Gov. Newsom's Stop the Republican Recall committee has received 448 individual monetary contributions this year from workers at Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook and Tesla, totaling $49,491.
In contrast, committees supporting leading Republican candidate Larry Elder have received about a tenth as many individual contributions (49) from workers at those firms, totaling $8,393. The figures get smaller from there.
YouTuber Kevin Paffrath, who was dubbed a "landlord influencer" by Curbed, has notched 21 contributions from big tech workers to a total of $2,717, while the data shows just one contribution for perennial candidate John Cox from an out-of-state Microsoft employee, totaling $100.
Contributions from big tech workers to the leading candidates and other recall committees came from all over the state, often from cities synonymous with the tech industry, like Palo Alto and Mountain View.
In Los Angeles and its surrounding areas, Newsom's Stop the Republican Recall committee raised funds from a handful of workers out of Apple and Amazon Studios' Culver City offices. Elder, who calls himself the Sage from South Central, secured funds from Amazon and Tesla engineers out of Orange County, among others. An Amazon driver out of nearby Covina contributed to the committee supporting Paffrath.
"I am anti-recall... much more than I am pro-Newsom," said one Los Angeles-based tech worker who contributed to the Stop the Republican Recall committee. "Larry Elder should run for city council or dog catcher. Governor, no. I don't have a problem with his conservative position but his views on women in particular are deeply concerning." They added, "he is not qualified to be governor of this state or any state."
As for contributions from big tech workers based outside of California, efforts to unseat Gov. Newsom take the lead. Altogether, committees opposing Gov. Newsom in the recall vote secured $3,936 from big tech workers who reside elsewhere, compared to $1,200 for Newsom.
About the Data, and the Latest Polling
The public campaign contributions data used in this story was taken from California's Secretary of State online database on September 1, 2021, querying contributions made this year from employees of the six largest tech firms by market cap: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Facebook and Tesla.
A poll released on August 31 from SurveyUSA and the San Diego Union-Tribune found that 51% of respondents sided with Newsom in opposing the recall, while 43% supported it and 6% said they were undecided. The same poll showed that 27% of voters "who plan to vote on question two" support Elder, with Paffrath, Cox and other candidates trailing far behind, according to SFGATE.
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Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing and delivery companies won their bid to keep drivers as independent contractors in what became the most expensive initiative in California history, with $200 million spent and led by the app-based services.
The initiative won decisively with 58% of the vote in a test for the tech-driven "gig economy" that is central to ride-hailing companies business model.
Uber, Lyft, Postmates and other app-based delivery giants overshadowed union opposition and pumped over $180 million into their effort to pass the measure. Its passage immediately sent stock of Uber and Lyft soaring.
Heather Foster, a spokesperson for Lyft, said the ballot measure sent a signal as the nation grapples with the rise of the gig economy.
"I think other states will be looking to see how they can work with us," she said. "Last night really solidifies this future of work...It's now a part of our economy."
Prop. 22 exempts ride-hailing and delivery companies from a new union-backed California law that requires their gig worker drivers be reclassified as employees.
Experts believed a loss could drive up labor costs 20% to 30%. And the companies would have had to dash their business models increasing costs and wait times for many riders.
The victory gives companies protections from the Democratic-leaning Legislature that passed the union-backed law demanding drivers be employees. The initiative requires a seven-eighths majority vote in the Legislature to be overturned and prevents drivers from unionizing.
But the ballot measure could have repercussions beyond how companies like Uber and Lyft classify their drivers.
Morgan Harper, an advisor at the American Economic Liberties Project, said it sets a "dangerous precedent," signifying to businesses with enough campaign money that they can create carve-outs from worker protection laws.
"The $200 million was spent to confuse people about what was going on in this proposition," she said. "Which was actually going to be more protective: the proposition or the law in place?"