The Arrival of Governor Gavin Newsom

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

All elections have consequences—some more than others. California’s often send ripples across the nation—none greater than the one just concluded.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (San Francisco) is a safe bet to be voted in as the returning Speaker of the House in a chamber that will be transformed with 40 new Democrats of diverse backgrounds and views. Included among them are 6 new Democrats who ousted long-time Republicans making 1 out of every 5 Democratic members of Congress a Californian.

However, it will not be a cakewalk for Pelosi with many of the rookie non-Californians making demands for committee assignments and advocating new voting rules that will make life more difficult for the leadership.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Bakersfield) will be taking over the top GOP slot which he might wish he was never given with an allegedly crime-tainted president now leading his party whom he will be forced to work with.

But the big enchilada for California voters is a man from Kentfield in tiny, prosperous Marin County which likes to send people into office of decidedly liberal temperament.

Gavin Newsom is the horse which the nation’s largest populace will be riding on for at least the next four years —-and his ambitions and those of his handlers could one day take him much farther!

It is not unusual for incoming governors to make lofty promises that, depending upon the economic climate, budgetary considerations and a cooperative legislature may or may not be kept.

Governor elect, Gavin Newsom, who has a history of shaking things up in defiance of critic’s predictions will need to keep a close eye on these three factors, among others, as he assumes the reins in Sacramento.

As of now they are working in his favor. The California economy is in a growth spurt showing record revenues after a few sluggish years following the debilitating recession of 2008.

Jerry Brown is departing the scene leaving a $9 billion budget surplus—the largest in a decade—despite a demonstrable reputation for exercising frugality as needed.

In the aftermath of the recent elections which netted a bonanza of Democratic winners, Newsom will be able to work with super-majorities in both chambers—60 partisan lawmakers in the 80-member Assembly, and 29 Democrats in the 40-seat Senate.

Then again, as one legislator pointed out wryly, all of them are “not San Francisco liberals”.

Newsom does not shun that label. In fact he has feasted on that image as he has climbed into contention as one of the future stars of the Democratic Party.

How he will use all this accumulated political capital will be one of the chief guessing games in the state as an even more lop-sided legislature convenes in a few weeks.

His predecessor had lofty ambitions which ran into some big snags that will be part of the legacy Newsom inherits.

One is the continuing debate over the feasibility of a hi-speed train which would link northern California with Los Angeles. Upon last look this project has reached a whopping price tag exceeding $80 billion—no small change even in a mega-state with a $201 billion budget.

Newsom, who pioneered the acceptance of same sex marriage when he was San Francisco mayor, shows little inclination of retreating in matters where he holds strong conviction. While in the past he has expressed reservations about the need for hi-speed rail, his future intentions are yet unknown.

Another hot potato likely to land on his desk sooner or later is the equally vexsome issue concerning the state’s water redistribution plans. The much disputed “Peripheral Canals” project calls for moving millions of acre feet of water annually from the ecologically fragile Sacramento River Delta to the Central Valley’s farm communities and water-starved communities south.

Some observers, not without reason, have tagged the recurrent water crises as the “third rail of California politics.” With multiple proposals pitting the ag-industry and unions against cities and environmentalists, Brown was wise to duck the issue.

There are, however, more attractive initiatives which the new governor might want to consider that are manageable and could help to enhance his reputation as an effective administrator.

One is funding for free preschool education that would benefit poor and middle-class families. A bill has already been introduced by Sacramento Assemblyman, Kevin McCarty, to make an additional 100,000 3 and 4-year olds eligible beyond the 175,000 currently funded.

The initial estimated cost is $1.3 billion which is certain to be challenged by anti-tax forces and Brown, himself, refused to endorse it preferring that extra monies be put instead in a “rainy day” fund.

Newsom has signaled that he favors greater access to education for poor and middle class families but is not likely to support universal preschool out of the gate.

He will also have to confront the much larger and more pressing issue of expanding affordable healthcare to millions of Californians still without adequate coverage. Newsom says he could support single payer healthcare but many want to go further and are clamoring for universal coverage.

Healthcare typically polls as the foremost concern of the state’s voters and it played well across the nation even in Districts which Trump had carried.

Brown morphed from an audacious pie-in-the-sky dreamer during his first tenure decades ago into a popular, pragmatic doer who understood the limitations of his office.

Newsom will also discover there are boundaries to what he can accomplish and he might want to make that clear in his inaugural address.

Newsom will not only set the tone for the incoming Administration, but he could advance ideas that could set the tone for the presidential election in 2020 in which his candidacy is not anticipated.

Since things can change rapidly in California’s boom-and-bust economy, Newsom will need to pick and choose carefully among the pledges he will make.

Not all Californians become future presidential timber. However, there is never a dearth of contenders. Brown tried several times and failed. But Newsom would be wise to take a few pages from the outgoing leader’s playbook.

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