Embattled California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who recently said “anti-mask and anti-vax extremists” were responsible for the recall push against him, once drew praise from anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. after he appeared to criticize a bill meant to crack down on vaccine exemptions for students.

In mid-2019, California state lawmakers pushed legislation to tighten vaccine exemptions in response to a nationwide measles outbreak. Newsom twice moved to weaken Senate Bill 276, a hotly debated measure to establish state oversight of vaccine exemptions, citing a concern that it could constitute government overreach.


“I like doctor-patient relationships, bureaucratic relationships are more challenging for me,” Newsom said in June 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times. “So it’s just a broad stroke. I’m a parent, I don’t want someone that the governor of California appointed to make a decision for my family.”

Newsom later said that he was a “very vocal advocate for vaccinations” and that his remarks were not meant to indicate opposition to vaccines. But the governor’s remarks drew praise at the time from Kennedy, a prominent vaccine skeptic and SB276 opponent.

Kennedy met with Newsom in Jan. 2019, weeks before the bill was first introduced in the California state legislature, according to the Times. He praised the governor for what he described as Newsom’s “wise and sober opposition to a draconian proposal to forcibly vaccinate medically fragile children against the wishes of their parents and the medical advice of their physician.”

Newsom’s remarks drew critical op-eds from local newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, as well as criticism from state politicians who backed the bill. The legislation later passed with several amendments favored by Newsom.

Kennedy was recently kicked off Instagram for sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 vaccines. He has suggested that COVID-19 vaccines were potentially unsafe and touted debunked theories of a link between vaccines and autism.

Newsom’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.


California is all but certain to hold a recall election in the coming months for Newsom, a Democrat who has faced widespread criticism over the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In an email to supporters earlier this month, Newsom attributed the recall push to right-wing activists.

“Let’s just call it what it is: it’s a partisan, Republican recall — backed by the RNC, anti-mask and anti-vax extremists, and pro-Trump forces that want to overturn the last election and have opposed much of what we have done to fight the pandemic,” Newsom said.

Organizers of the recall effort against Newsom have amassed enough signatures to trigger a vote that could oust the governor from office. Newsom would be just the second governor in state history to face a recall vote.

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