Gavin Gets His Close-Up

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe & Doug Jeffe
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy Communication, Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, and Doug Jeffe, Communications and Public Affairs Strategist

Our new Governor spent his eight years as Jerry Brown’s Lieutenant Governor with not a whole lot to do.   Gavin Newsom s making up for lost time in his first hundred days in office.

Right from his Inauguration, Newsom burst out of the gate with new priorities and an aggressive style that is putting his own stamp on the Golden State and the California governorship.  Unlike Brown, his stealth-like predecessor, Governor Newsom  appears to be everywhere—in Sacramento, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, the Bay area,  Washington and, next up, El Salvador. It appears that he hasn’t met a photo-op he didn’t like.

Newsom’s inaugural address was clearly intended to differentiate him from Jerry Brown in both style and substance.  His young son took over the “cute” spot, previously occupied by First Dogs Sutter and Colusa Brown.  Newsom may have gotten a bit over hi8s skis when talking about the proposed Bullet Train—using rhetoric that sounded like he intended to cancel everything but the Central Valley leg.  That led to a bit of wrangling  with President Trump and an awkward  (dare we say “Trump-ish”?)attempt to blame the media for misconstruing his words.

The Governor’s initial Budget press conference in January was an eyeopener. His bravura performance demonstrated that he is more than a pretty face—rather a wonk who revels in the minutia of government and who has oodles of his own ideas about how to solve California’s problems.

Not surprisingly, the Governor has wallowed in hand-to-hand combat with President Trump and his administration—pausing only to make nice when courting disaster relief.  From immigration, to health care to just about everything else, Newsom has staked out positions as the anti-Trump.  If it weren’t for Kamala Harris’ Presidential candidacy and his newbie status in the corner office, you would think Gavin Newsom was lining up to challenge Trump in 2020.  In any event, anti-Trump positioning can only burnish Newsom’s image in a state where the president’s approval rating is somewhat below that of dry rot.

The interesting question is whether Gavin Newsom is getting himself too far out front on too many issues.  He was forced to backtrack on his initial threat to take away transportation funds from municipalities that fail to meet housing goals.  The Governor seems hell-bent on tackling the housing affordability and homeless crises head-on, but does he recognize that these are in tractable problems that can’t be solved with 10-point plans or gubernatorial arm-twisting? It is possible to make progress in these areas, but certainly not overnight—or even in 100 days.  The danger for Newsom will be that he may get backlash when big fixes aren’t in evidence and voters develop a perception that he hasn’t delivered.

There is also the matter of conflicting priorities among key interest groups and Democratic constituencies.  Even with the big Budget surplus he inherited, there isn’t going to be enough in the state’s coffers to meet the demands for increased funding for education, healthcare, housing and other needs. It will become even harder to satisfy voters if there is a downturn in the economy.

All in all, Governor Newsom is off to a good start in his first hundred days, but he may want to slow down a bit—and stay sharply focused on the Golden State–to better pilot California around the inevitable potholes ahead.

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