The conservative provocateur Sabo says that Elder, the Republican front-runner and talk radio host, is “a good man.”
Aug. 27, 2021, 10:01 a.m. ET
Every now and again over the past couple of decades, the right-wing street artist Sabo has popped up, aggravating Los Angeles liberals.
Westside residents may recall the billboard for the movie “Parasite” that he altered to depict 2020 Democratic presidential contenders under the movie title. Or Meryl Streep denying his accusation that “she knew” about Hollywood sexual harassment, plastered on posters around town during the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
Over the years, Sabo’s Facebook page has been taken down, his Twitter account has been blocked and his Instagram feed has been disabled. Even Senator Ted Cruz, the hard-line Texas conservative whom Sabo supported during the 2016 presidential primaries, distanced himself after The Texas Tribune put a spotlight on the artist’s inflammatory social media posts.
A dropout from the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, Sabo has made a name as a sort of Shepard Fairey of the right since the mid-2000s. His headquarters until the pandemic were an apartment in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Palms.
Lately, Sabo said, he and his wife have been living with relatives in Colorado, where he continues to operate an online gallery, Unsavoryagents. But he still deploys his political art in California to further conservative causes. His most recent: the campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom and replace him with the talk radio host Larry Elder, the front-running Republican challenger.
I caught up with Sabo, 53, by phone to discuss his advocacy around the coming election. Californians have until Sept. 14 to return the recall ballots that have been sent out to the 22 million active registered voters across the state. Here’s some of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Why have you left California?
If I wasn’t married, I’d still be in L.A. But it got to the point where I couldn’t leave my apartment without worrying if someone was going to crawl in through the window. It’s kind of on hold, but I seriously doubt I’ll move back. The only redeeming quality it had was it was cheap.
How did you end up campaigning for Larry Elder?
I’ve listened to Larry Elder for decades. There was a time in the mid-1990s when I listened to talk radio from the moment I woke up to the minute I went to sleep. Most people would come to a point where they were entertaining but not intellectually honest. I didn’t agree with everything Larry said, but I appreciated his consistency.
Anyway, one day two or three years ago I was at an event and someone said, “Larry Elder’s over there, let’s go say hi.” And he was like, “Wow, you’re Sabo — you’re a fixture in L.A.” Then I saw him again, in a similar situation. Just hello and a picture. And I generally don’t like politicians, but I might have said let’s grab lunch.
So you had a business lunch?
I just wanted to see what made him tick. It was a couple months before the election in 2020. I was operating on a couple hours of sleep, but he was firing off questions, personal questions about my father, my upbringing, what I do and why I do it. I grew up in Louisiana and Texas. He told me a touching story about his father and I told him a story about my father, who is Mexican, that was very rough.
So how did you end up doing his campaign posters?
I give him art to put on his Instagram sometimes. About a week before he announced, he emailed, like, “Hey, man, I’m thinking about running for governor.” I said, “You’re a good man, you’ve got to run.” So right after he announced, I did a poster, but just for myself, not for his campaign. And then some people were doing a fund-raiser and they asked me to donate something.
Where can people find your work?
I’ve done like three posters of Larry — a green one with poppies that I put up in Brentwood and the Pacific Palisades, one of Larry and Gavin Newsom boxing that I put up around Hollywood and Inglewood, maybe one more. But I’m the fastest censored artist in America when I put up posters in L.A. By the time we went to take pictures in the morning, some of those posters were already down.
Recent polling shows that the governor’s race is a dead heat among likely voters. Read a Times analysis.
We’ve got answers to some frequently asked questions about the recall.
Tell us what else you want to know about the recall. Email your questions to CAtoday@nytimes.com and we’ll try to answer them in the newsletter.
Shawn Hubler is a correspondent for The New York Times, currently based in Sacramento.
If you read one story, make it this
How do you solve a problem like California’s housing crisis?
Well, on Thursday, the State Legislature did something that many hope will help.
The Assembly voted to move forward Senate Bill 9, which would allow single-family home plots to be developed into as many as four units in an effort to increase density.
The bill, which would open the suburbs to development, faces furious opposition from some homeowners.
Read the full story from Times reporter Conor Dougherty.
The rest of the news
Nirvana lawsuit: Spencer Elden filed a lawsuit in federal court in California this week against the members of the band Nirvana, which he says engaged in child pornography by using a naked picture of him as cover art. The band’s breakthrough 1991 album, “Nevermind,” features a photograph of Elden as a naked 4-month-old. Read the story from The Times.
Nursing shortage: California hospitals are struggling to find enough nurses as pandemic-induced burnout has pushed many out of the field. Plus, some traveling nurses who would typically fill in are refusing to get vaccinated, preventing them from working in California hospitals, according to CalMatters.
Worker deaths: Public health experts and federal workplace regulators consider heat-related death to be entirely preventable. Yet California farmworkers, firefighters and construction workers toiling in hot environments continue to die, according to an LAist investigation.
Low voter turnout: Democrats turned out in record numbers when they had Donald J. Trump to vote against, but California’s surprisingly close recall election for governor is laying bare just how hard it may be for the party to motivate its base without Trump as a foil, Politico reports.
Complaint filed against Newsom: The California Republican Party filed a complaint on Thursday with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission alleging that Newsom failed to report important details regarding his $3.7 million mansion near Sacramento in campaign filings.
The commission, the state’s political watchdog, has investigated similar complaints before and found they lacked merit, reports CapRadio.
Covid-19 spike: Coronavirus cases are increasing within the Los Angeles Police Department, with 84 new cases identified among department personnel in the last week, an increase from 45 the previous week, The Los Angeles Times reports.
World War II pilot: Seventy-seven years ago, a 20-year-old Air Force pilot from Los Angeles was shot down over Berlin during World War II. On Wednesday evening, his remains returned to his hometown, The Los Angeles Daily News reports.
Back to school: Fresno Unified is getting over $700 million in Covid-19 relief funding that will be used to hire support staff and strengthen after-school programs in an effort to help students who may have fallen behind, according to The Fresno Bee.
An unlikely friendship: During the pandemic, a group of girls in Kabul, Afghanistan, became friends with middle schoolers in Marin County, sharing their lives over video calls. Now, amid the Taliban takeover, those Afghan girls are running for their lives as their Bay Area friends try to help them, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Enrollment freeze: An Alameda County judge has ordered the University of California, Berkeley, to freeze its enrollment, a victory for neighbors upset with the university’s growth as well as for other California communities struggling to deal with the impacts of the system’s growing campuses, Berkeleyside reports.
Millennium Tower sinking: San Francisco’s notorious luxury high-rise has a 22-inch tilt, even amid a $100 million project designed to fix the issue, The Guardian reports.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s travel tip comes from Beth Weaver, who recommends Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the architect behind Central Park, the cemetery “is a beautiful place to walk and reflect,” Beth writes.
Tell us about the best spots to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
Santa Paula will debut a weekly farmers’ market today featuring shops and food from more than 30 vendors.
The new market will run from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Friday and will have a wine and beer tasting section, according to The Ventura County Star.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back in your inbox on Monday. Enjoy your weekend.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Narcissist’s main concern (2 letters).
Soumya Karlamangla, Steven Moity, Briana Scalia and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.