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Allegations fly as recall vote looms for California’s Newsom

LOS ANGELES (AP) — In a blitz of TV ads and a last-minute rally, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom urged voters Sunday to turn back a looming recall vote that could remove him from office, while leading Republican Larry Elder broadly criticized the media for what he described as double standards that insulated Newsom from criticism and scrutiny throughout the contest.

The sunny, late-summer weekend was a swirl of political activity, as candidates held rallies, continued bus tours and cluttered the TV airwaves with advertising offering their closing arguments in advance of the election that concludes Tuesday.

Newsom — who is expecting President Joe Biden on Monday for a capstone get-out-the-vote rally in Long Beach — was in a largely Hispanic area on the northern edge of Los Angeles, where he sought to drive up turnout with the key voting bloc.

Elder also was in Los Angeles, where he was joined by activist and former actress Rose McGowan, who repeated her claims from recent days that Newsom’s wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, attempted to persuade her in 2017 not to go public with her allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Siebel Newsom’s office described the allegations as a “complete fabrication.” In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Newsom characterized McGowan’s claims as a “last-minute classic hit piece” from one of Elder’s supporters.

The governor called Elder desperate and grasping, saying McGowan’s claims about his wife “just shows you how low things go in campaigns these days.”

He echoed his earlier criticism of Elder, saying the conservative talk show host and lawyer “doesn’t believe that women have the right to their own reproductive freedoms, he’s devoutly opposed to Roe v. Wade, doesn’t believe there’s a glass ceiling, doesn’t believe in pay equity laws.”

During her appearance, McGowan spoke warmly of Elder and lambasted Hollywood Democrats who she said traumatized her life. She now lives in Mexico.

“Do I agree with him on all points? No,” McGowan said. “So what. He is the better candidate. He is the better man.”

The last-minute exchange highlighted growing tensions in the election, which largely grew out frustration with Newsom’s pandemic orders that shuttered schools and businesses during the pandemic. Voting concludes Tuesday. Recent polling shows Newsom is likely to hold his job.

As Newsom’s “first partner,” Siebel Newsom, an actress turned documentary filmmaker, has championed gender equality and society’s treatment of women and families.

McGowan, 48, who is known for her role in the “Scream” movie franchise, was one of the earliest of dozens of women to accuse Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, making her a major figure in the #MeToo movement.

Elder, who could become the state's first Black governor, targeted some of his sharpest remarks at what he described as skewed media coverage.

Earlier this week, his walking tour of homeless encampments in LA’s Venice Beach neighborhood was cut short after a woman bicyclist wearing a gorilla mask threw an egg toward Elder and then took a swing at a member of his entourage. The confrontation set off strong reactions on Twitter, with conservatives charging the incident wasn’t immediately branded a racist attack because Elder is a conservative.

If he was a Democrat “it would have been a major story,” Elder said. He also said McGowan’s accusations largely have been ignored by the media, but argued that if similar charges had been made about him “that’s all you guys would be talking about.”

“This is a double standard,” he said. “I’m sick of it.”

Emails posted on Twitter by McGowan showed she had contact with Newsom’s wife, which her office confirmed but said their communication was “as fellow survivors of sexual assault and in Jennifer’s former capacity leading the Representation Project, an organization that fights limiting gender stereotypes and norms.”

One of McGowan’s key claims is that during a 2017 phone conversation, Newsom’s wife referenced a law firm that was working with Weinstein and asked her what the firm could do “to make you happy.”

McGowan said Sunday she didn’t recognize the firm’s name at the time. “I had no idea who that was. So, I just said nothing and hung up on her. That was my last contact with her,” she said.

The election will determine whether Newsom can complete his first term or will be tossed out of office more than a year early. Voters are being asked two questions: Should Newsom be recalled and, if so, who should replace him? If he gets a majority vote on the first question, the second question with the names of 46 replacement candidate is irrelevant. Otherwise, the highest vote-getter among the replacement candidates would become governor.

Annexation recommendation fails Townsend Planning Commission vote

An annexation of nearly 14 vacant acres into Townsend’s city limits didn’t get the votes it needed to pass Planning Commission’s recent recommendation.

Likely set to be a topic of discussion at Townsend City Commission’s meeting on Sept. 21, a request to annex some Blount County land off Webb Road — on the north side of Little River and just south of the Powder Horn Trail neighborhood — now faces opposition.

Townsend City Commission already voted unanimously on first reading to annex the land. Now it’s seeking a blessing in the form of a recommendation from the Planning Commission, which gathered for its September session last week.

Three planning commissioners voted yes on the recommendation — Bill Lindsey, Rick Younger and Eric Stein. Two chose to abstain — Steve Fillmore and Sandy Headrick. One voted no — Ted Godfrey, also a city commissioner.

The vote needed a majority to pass but was split 3-3.

Civil & Environmental Consultants engineer Matt Sprinkle represented the property owners and said they want to build rental cabins and an event center on the property.

Site plans for this project haven’t been submitted to the city since the annexation is still tentative.

The land is currently zoned R-1 Low-Density Residential. Should it be annexed into the city, it would receive a plan of services and also would be a planned unit development, or “PUD.”

Officials have the ability to change the land to B-1 General Business if they want to, City Planner Joe Barrett said during the meeting, something that’s already been tossed around. They’d have to go through standard rezoning processes to do so, however.

Though there’s flexibility in how the land could be used and regulated, some commissioners expressed outright opposition during the meeting.

“I’m against recommending it,” Fillmore said. “No offense,” he added, turning to Sprinkle.

“My thoughts on it are, they’re trying to do something the county wouldn’t allow them to do. They’re coming to the city to try and get it done,” Fillmore said.

Current regulation on PUDs on county land, according to subdivision regulations posted online and amended through 2020, show their minimum size must be 5 acres.

City Commission discussed in July the possibility of the area being zoned B-1 General Business, but the matter is still under consideration.

Native Don Headrick — Sandy Headrick’s husband and co-owner of Highland Manor Inn — noted during the discussion that guidelines, rules and regulations are evolving to fit “what’s best for Townsend.

“It’s about tourism here. And what we do and what we’ve done in the past is about how to grow the area and make it aesthetically pleasing for the tourists,” Headrick said. “When I hear ‘cabin rentals’ that’s tourism. ... It’s time to move forward to be receptive to people’s needs.”

As business growth seems to have hit a fever pitch in Townsend over the past year, many have expressed concern that the economy is moving so quickly that the city’s quaint beauty may be at risk.

Planning commissioners repeatedly noted their vote was only a recommendation and that City Commission would have the final say regardless.

No businesses or names have been mentioned in relation to the property — once a campground, longtime city leaders say — which may see a final annexation decision during the coming City Commission meeting.

However, property records show the land’s owners as of Jan. 1, 2021, were Nathan and Kathrine Schrock.

Blount County Redistricting Committee eyes plans for 10, 21 County Commission districts

The Blount County Redistricting Committee is moving in a new direction as it works to reshapes the county’s voting districts in accordance with the latest U.S. census data.

After leaving last week’s meeting with the intent to consider plans with seven, 10 and 14 County Commission districts, Monday night’s meeting ended with the committee voting down plans for both seven and 14 commission districts, in favor of the existing 21 districts.

Plans featuring seven commission districts were just added back to consideration at the previous committee meeting as committee members hoped it would help strengthen the minority population in certain districts.

“It did not do what we seeking for it to do,” County Commissioner and committee Chair Mike Akard said. “I was in favor of seeing it because I wanted to see if we could accomplish what our goal was. We cannot, mathematically, get there.”

The vote to remove seven and 14 commission district plans also came after a number of public comments from Blount County residents who pushed the committee to keep the number of County Commission districts — and the number of county commissioners — the same.

“A wise approach to public policy is ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” citizen Mark Pulliam said. “We have an established track record with the existing structure of the commission districts. Changing them could be opening the proverbial Pandora’s Box.”

“I think you’re expending a lot of energy that is not going to yield a lot of improvement,” citizen Kevin McNeil added in agreement.

Requests from the public were heard by the committee, as plans for an updated version of the current 10 County Commission districts, seven-school board district setup remain in consideration.

The committee also voted to take an alternate 10 County Commission district plan into consideration. This plan proposes 10 “equal” County Commission districts, which would bring the number of county commissioners down from 21 to 20. The plan also would require the number of school board districts to be changed from seven to 10, something members of the school board expressed opposition to at a recent redistricting meeting.

“If 70 other counties have some correlation of school board districts and county commission districts, I would be interested in seeing the 10 districts for commission and 10 school board districts with common district boundaries,” committee member and Blount County Director of Accounts & Budgets Randy Vineyard said.

The committee voted 10-1 in favor of considering the plan, with Akard being the only vote against.

The committee now also is considering a plan that proposes to keep the number of school board districts at seven, while creating 21 County Commission districts.

The idea behind the 21 commission plan is that it could potentially solve the three major problems that have continually plagued the committee.

“One thing we haven’t looked at that I would like possibly for us to look at is: We keep the number of commissioners at 21, at the same time we’re wanting to try and keep seven school districts,” committee member and County Commission Chairman Ron French said. “Is there a possibility that we could have 21 commission districts with more representation of the different ethnic groups? We could split these districts to where you may have two or three districts that will have a majority ethnic group. Then they would have their own representation on the commission.”

Committee member and Blount County Administrator of Elections Susan Knopf informed the committee that the cost of elections would significantly increase with 21 County Commission districts and added that proposed voting centers likely would not be ready in time for next year’s elections.

Still the committee voted 8-3 in favor of considering the 21 commission district plan at the next meeting.

That meeting is set for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15, at the Blount County Courthouse.