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Good news for Gavin Newsom – California is not where it was in 2003

California has changed a lot since former Gov. Gray Davis, left, was recalled in 2003. Gov. Gavin Newsom faces a similar attempt. (Associated press)

A lot has happened in 18 years. A war in Iraq. Two indictments. Four presidents. Five “Pirates of the Caribbean” films.

And here we are again faced with a recall election for governor, the second in California history and only the fourth attempted anywhere in the United States (although it is unofficial, a Fall referendum on Gavin Newsom’s future is about as likely as water supply will decline between now and September.)

California is a very different place than it was in 2003, the last time voters decided to deliver the coup de grace to the state’s CEO.

The population is older than it used to be, housing costs are higher, and millions more live here. (Exodus, schmexodus). Perhaps most significantly, California has become considerably more democratic.

Every election is different. The same goes for the roots of the two recall efforts

Democrat Gray Davis has been blamed for mishandling an electricity crisis which, it turns out, was caused in large part by profiteers and corrupt Texas energy traders. (It didn’t help that Davis wasn’t particularly well-liked at first and only won a second term reluctantly.)

Newsom’s circumstances are different. He was elected in a landslide and stood on politically solid ground until lockdowns and upheaval caused by COVID-19 catalyzed efforts to force a vote on the Democrat’s performance a year before the regular elections of 2022.

One constant: French Laundry restaurant still serves the wealthy and epicureans, as it did 18 years ago, even though no one cared at the time if a politician showed up to a birthday party without masks. Newsom’s thoughtless visit in November is what pushed the languid recall into high gear.

Good news for Gavin Newsom – California is not where it was in 2003

In 2003, the French Laundry was just a restaurant and not a political catalyst. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s a statistical snapshot of California yesterday and today, showing how much the state has changed since the last recall election. Some statistics relate to 2019 or 2020, the latest years for which full data is available.

Many thanks to the folks at the State Department of Finance for their research assistance.


2003: 35 million

White non-Latin, 45%; Latino 34%; Asian American / Pacific Islander, 12%

2021: 40 million

White non-Latin, 38%; Latino 40%; Asian American / Pacific Islander, 14%

Middle age

2003: 34

2021: 38

Median age of mother with first child

2003: 28

2021: 31

Registered voters

2003: 15 million

44% D, 35% R, 21% decline in state / other

2021: 22 million

46% D, 24% R, 30% No party / other preference


2003: Gray Davis, Democrat (reelected in November 2002, 47%)

2021: Gavin Newsom, Democrat (elected in November 2018, 62%)

Elected statewide (eight)

2003: D 7, R 1

2021: D 8, R 0

Congress delegation (53 members)

2003: D 33, R 20

2021: D 42, R 11

State Senate (40 members)

2003: 25 D, 15 R

2021: 31 J, 9 L

State Assembly (80 members)

2003: 48 D, 32 R

2021: 58 D, 19 R, 1 independent, 2 vacancies

Economic ranking, world

2003: 7th tallest

2019: 5th largest


2003: 6.9%

2020: 10.2%

Median sale price of an existing home

2003: $ 371,520

2020: $ 659,380

Good news for Gavin Newsom – California is not where it was in 2003

The median selling price of a house in California was $ 659,380 in 2020, although neighborhoods like Hollywood Heights are much more expensive. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Minimum wage

2003: $ 6.25 per hour

2021: $ 14 per hour ($ 13 for companies with 25 employees or less)

Median household income (dollars adjusted for inflation)

2003: $ 60,978

2019: $ 73,226

Average gasoline price

2003: $ 1.83 gallon

2020: $ 3.05

Average journey time (minutes)

2003: 27

2019: 31

Largest companies (Fortune 500, ranked by annual turnover)

2003: ChevronTexaco; Hewlett Packard; McKesson; Safeway; Wells fargo

2020: Apple; Alphabet (Google); Chevron; Wells Fargo, Intel

Oscar, better picture

2003: “Chicago”

2021: “Nomadland”

Good news for Gavin Newsom – California is not where it was in 2003

Frances McDormand accepts the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in “Nomadland”. (AMPAS)

The biggest success at the national box office

2003: “Finding Nemo”: $ 339,714,184

2021: “Godzilla vs Kong”: $ 90,300,000 (until Sunday)

Grammy, song of the year

2003: “I don’t know why”

2021: “I can’t breathe”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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