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“It’s very significant, and it dovetails into the general perception that we are coming out of the pandemic, the worst is behind us, the future looks brighter as evidenced by the checks the public will soon receive,” former Gov. Gray Davis, who was recalled in 2003, said in an interview Monday. “It all flows into the same narrative that the problems are mostly behind us today and will be substantially behind us come this fall.”

California’s record windfall is a product of its prosperous tech sector, high share of professional workers and steeply progressive tax structure. While unemployment remains higher in California than in most states because of job losses in its travel and service sectors, upper-income earners had a boom year as they adapted to remote work and enjoyed another surge in the stock market.

The windfall is so great that it is likely to trigger a 1979 vestige of California’s anti-tax movement that hasn’t been invoked for more than three decades. Under a constitutional spending cap known as the “Gann Limit” after fiscal conservative Paul Gann, the state must refund taxes and direct more money to schools once revenues top a certain level.

Besides the surplus, Newsom touted $26 billion in direct state aid from the federal stimulus plan that Democrats passed in March. He’s including that in a $100 billion package he’s labeling his “California Comeback Plan.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in December that the federal package would “supply the Governor of California with a special slush fund.” It drew new attacks on Monday after Newsom’s announcement.

“This is one more reason why borrowing and sending tens of billions to California was a crying shame — and why every Republican in Congress opposed it,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said on Twitter.

California’s strong budget marks just the latest difference between the 2021 recall election and the one 18 years ago. While many people remember that rolling blackouts soured voters on Davis, the state’s rickety finances may have been the final straw. Staring down a record budget deficit, the Democrat cut spending and then made the politically perilous decision to enact a California vehicle tax hike — essentially the opposite of what Newsom is proposing by giving cash back to residents.

“Gray Davis was never in a position to play Santa Claus,” his former press aide Steve Maviglio said.

Newsom sidestepped a question Monday about how the proposal might buttress his efforts to defeat an all-but-certain recall vote. Instead, he returned to a regular theme of touting California’s minuscule coronavirus rate, its brimming budget and its accelerating pace of job creation. Those are all pieces of evidence for his central pitch to voters of a revivified California “roaring back” from the pandemic. Stimulus checks give more weight to that argument.

It didn’t take long for Republican recall backers to take credit, with some already dubbing it the “Recall Refund.” “Chalk another one up for the pressure of the recall on Gavin Newsom’s policies,” stated an email from the official proponents.

They were unmoved by Newsom’s effort to channel $600 checks to some two-thirds of state residents in households making up to $75,000, along with $500 to families with dependents. Republican consultant Dave Gilliard, who worked to qualify the recall, argued that Newsom’s paean to taxpayers demonstrated the governor had become “a born-again tax-cutter because of the recall.”

“That’s not exactly what you expect to hear from one of the most liberal governors in the country,” Gilliard said, but he predicted it would do little to sway voters who have become accustomed to stimulus checks during the pandemic.

“It’s going to look like a stunt,” Gilliard said, and “I don’t think they’re going to give [Newsom] a whole lot of credit for it.”

However voters react, Newsom is unquestionably in a stronger position than Davis was before voters toppled him in 2003.

Davis’ efforts to balance the budget alienated both allies and foes. Budget cuts antagonized Democrats while conservatives attacked the car tax hike, rallying voters against a concrete hit on their wallets. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who ultimately toppled Davis, made the car tax a symbolic centerpiece of his campaign and derided Davis to great effect when he crushed an old car with a wrecking ball just before the election.

“He was forced to slash a lot of programs in the Legislature, so he was making enemies on the left and enemies on the right,” Maviglio said. “When you have an angry left and a Democratic governor, that’s not a good equation.”

Susan Kennedy, who worked for both Davis and Schwarzenegger, argued that Davis was hamstrung by the budget crunch following a series of disasters like blackouts and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. By contrast, Newsom will face a vote as California emerges from the coronavirus cataclysm on sturdy footing.

Newsom “is facing the largest windfall in state history after having steered the state successfully through a global health crisis that shut the world economy down,” Kennedy said in an email. “He’s going to get a lot of credit for that with voters if he keeps the state open and handles the surplus well.”

The Democratic governor is also in better position because polls continue to show that more voters oppose the recall than want to remove Newsom. That was not the case for Davis in 2003 months before the recall election.

“With Gray, it went on for two years, and the cause was just seen as Sacramento and Washington dysfunction. It was just more diffuse,” Kennedy said, adding that the car fee increase carried similar symbolic weight to Newsom’s stimulus checks. “It became the standard-bearer issue. It was so perfectly symbolic for why Democrats don’t think Republicans manage finances well.”

The $100 billion should satisfy Newsom’s Democratic base, which has called for everything from homeless support to Medicaid for undocumented residents. By comparison, Democrats in 2003 ultimately fractured, with Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante reneging on a promise not to run and then finishing in second. Newsom has sought to hold his party together and forestall a Democratic candidate from entering the race — a task that’s much easier when the state has money to spend.

Underscoring that unity on Monday, Newsom was flanked by state lawmakers who chair the Legislature’s budget committees and will thus be his principal budget negotiating partners. They showered praise on his proposals, as did Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

“Direct aid to people is what is going to get our economy roaring back,” Schaaf said, hailing “one of the greatest California budgets we have ever seen.”



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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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