Tomorrow, Californians will vote to recall Governor Gavin Newsom. While the media and political pundits dissect the polling numbers and debate the governor’s performance in office, there’s an overlooked piece to this shocking story.
The citizens of California, by calling for Governor Newsom’s resignation and demanding accountability, did their job.
It is in fact the American people’s responsibility to keep government officials like the California Governor accountable. This responsibility dates back to the birth of our nation, when the Founding Fathers noted the synonymous relationship between holding government accountable and keeping our republic standing. Of course, government officials can keep an eye on one another, but it’s ultimately up to the people to ensure their officials are trustworthy, effective, and represent citizen interests.
And it’s easier for citizens to fulfill their duty to hold government accountable when the government is closer to the people. Americans are in a better position to oversee what’s going on in their states and communities than they are keeping track of politicians in distant Washington, DC.
The Founders understood this challenge. That’s why they designed federalism.
Federalism, or a government system where power is shared between the state, local, and national governments, allows the people in states to choose how they are governed and by who. State and local leaders can implement policies specific to their constituents’ needs and values. Federalism pushes more power and control to communities, and away from Washington “elites.”
The Founders were also quite aware that government accountability requires a highly informed populace. But regular Americans have lives to lead, families to care for, and work to do, leaving little time to keep a vigilant watch on government officials. This is why state and local organizations that help citizens in their essential government watchdog role are so valuable.
Take, for example, the California Policy Center and Pacific Research Institute. These state policy organizations have been fighting for California residents and championing polices that improve their lives. Over the past year, both organizations have been keeping a close eye on Governor Newsom’s policies and how those policies have been impacting California families. These organizations have called attention to the state’s growing list of problems, including high unemployment, unaffordable living, unmanageable fires, and a growing homeless problem—and then explained how policies from Sacramento have exacerbated these issues.
Another example is the Empire Center for Public Policy. This nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in New York has spent the last decade fighting for a transparent, effective, and accountable statehouse. Those efforts proved especially useful during the pandemic, when Empire’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and subsequent litigation forced New York to reveal the true number of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes.
Empire’s relentless efforts tracking the administration’s steps, and then communicating their findings in an accessible way to the public and the press, kept New Yorkers informed of the governor’s mansion’s missteps. The Empire Center shined a light on the nursing home coverup and stood up for a vulnerable population and their families at a time when few were standing up for them.
Without Empire Center, New Yorkers may still be in the dark on the true number of coronavirus nursing home deaths. That discovery lit the match that eventually led to the sexual assault revelations and ultimately Andrew Cuomo’s demise. Without the California Policy Center and Pacific Research Institute, Californians would have a tougher time keeping track of the governor’s policies, and how those policies affect the state and California residents.
State policy and watchdog organizations like these help make federalism work. They enable American citizens to live up to their responsibility to hold government officials like Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo accountable. We need more of these organizations, and we need to listen to them more.