California Legislators Call for Ending COVID Restrictions, Say 'Cure' Was 'Worse Than the Disease'

Republicans in California are looking to strip Governor Gavin Newsom of the emergency powers that allow him to control the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, putting the authority in the hands of local legislators.

California has implemented some of the strictest lockdown measures in the country and, a year into the pandemic, some schools remain closed and businesses and restaurants can only open at a limited capacity. Despite the restrictions, the state's seen similar levels of cases and deaths as Florida, a state where few restrictions were in place, and some legislators are calling it high time to reopen.

A resolution introduced on Tuesday would end California's state of emergency and divest Newsom of his emergency powers. Without that power, the emergency orders Newsom issued would be terminated, according to GOP Assemblyman Kevin Kiley.

"Governor Newsom's response to COVID-19 has been a failure by any measure," Kiley said in a statement. "Rather than needlessly continue to destroy lives and livelihoods, the state should trust local communities and the people of California to make their own decisions."

Kiley told Newsweek he's long disagreed with Newsom's pandemic response and that it was hard to imagine a "greater failure of political leadership." He added that California's legislature should have played an "active role" in managing the response "from the beginning."

The Center Square, a conservative-leaning news outlet, reported that, in an email to constituents, Kiley said Newsom's "cure" to the pandemic went beyond being "worse than the disease"—a saying that former President Donald Trump used in his opposition to lockdowns.

Newsom's response, according to Kiley, made the "disease worse."

Newsweek reached out to Newsom for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Newsom's restrictions have fueled a recall effort against him, and organizers of the petition say they have enough signatures to move forward. In response, the governor launched a campaign to stop the recall effort, indicating that he thought it was likely to make it onto the ballot.

gavin newsom republicans end emergency power restrictions
California Republicans are looking to strip Governor Gavin Newsom of his emergency powers and called for an end to COVID-19 restrictions at a state level. Newsom looks on during a news conference after he toured the newly reopened Ruby Bridges Elementary School on March 16 in Alameda, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The governor has recently started to loosen up restrictions, with about 90 percent of the state being in the red tier, which allows for indoor dining and the reopening of movie theaters. Some saw it as a political move, as it came as the recall effort gained momentum, but Newsom defended his response to the pandemic.

"We won't change course just because of a few nay-sayers and dooms-dayers," Newsom said in his State of the State address on March 9. "So to the California critics, who are promoting partisan power grabs and outdated prejudices, and rejecting everything that makes California great, we say this: We will not be distracted from getting shots in arms and our economy booming again."

Kiley told Newsweek he saw the recall effort as a "rejection one-man rule" and the most important task the next governor can undertake is to return "power to local communities and to the people."

Newsom also touted his early stay-at-home order for helping to save lives, testing programs, and advanced planning for helping to prepare hospitals for surges. These measures, he said in his address, have contributed to California having "one of the lowest death rates per capita" in the country.

California is in the bottom half of the country when it comes to cases and deaths per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Population (CDC), but the Associated Press noted that it's not a wholly different situation from Florida. Both states averaged about 9,000 cases per 100,000 and Florida only had about 11 more deaths per 100,000 than California, per CDC data.

The five Republican legislators who co-authored the resolution to strip Newsom of his emergency powers noted this data comparison. Assemblyman James Gallagher criticized the governor's restrictions for devastating businesses, employees and kids' education.

Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans in California's legislature, so it's unclear if the Republicans will be able to garner enough support to take Newsom's powers away. If it does succeed, though, Gallagher told local TV station KHSL that there would be nothing preventing local leaders from implementing their own plans.

Updated 5:22 PM ET, with comment from Assemblyman Kevin Kiley.