What will be Gavin Newsom’s formula for success

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.

The ideas behind the founding of the republic and the writing of our Constitution sprung from the minds of very big thinkers. None ever thought bigger.

Of course it was easier planning for a little over 2 million people in 1776 than for the approximately 325 million of us just in the U.S who take up dwindling space 243 years later.

Californians comprise nearly 40 million with Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area being the second and fifth most populous regions—or about 8% of the total nation.

In others words we are devising solutions for a territory whose biggest challenge for the earliest settlers was just getting here and they do not always fit easily into the expectations or needs of the diverse populace which followed.

From the think tanks of Silicon Valley to the water desalination innovations in San Diego, from the mind-boggling “black hole” findings on the campuses of Berkeley and Stanford, from artificial intelligence research to self-driving cars, everywhere in this “nation-state” great minds are at work.

Thinking bigger how best to guide what has become one of the world’s economic colossuses is no longer a matter of choice. It is a necessity.

Even so, big thinking must eventually collide with harsh realities and the trick for politicians is finding ways to balance the two.

With each new Administration in Sacramento the pieces of the puzzle get reassembled according to those vested with the authority to do so. Or they can choose to pass up the opportunity.

From Governors Hiram Johnson, standard bearer of both the Progressive & Republican Parties in the early 1900s, to Gavin Newsom, a latter-day Democrat–creative thinking has been thrust upon the state’s leaders.

The Newsom era is barely 100 days old and bursting with ideas that have not yet been road-tested. Some could go well. A few have already been soundly debunked and others may be DOA. All are up for discussion.

On the agenda are low and middle income housing, homelessness programs, health coverage, water distribution, tax reform and runaway pension funding, rebuilding roads, highways, bridges and dams, multi-modal transit  systems, environmental safeguards and renewable energy, climate control and soil conservation, gun safety, early childhood education, prison reform, workforce training, opioid addiction, immigrant assimilation, and I’m sure I’ve left some out.

We each have our own “A” list and trust people in high places we’ve elected are capable of tackling them. Or you can simply deny their existence and head for one of our many beautiful beaches until they are over-run by rising oceans.

The newly-inked 2019-2020 California budget which still requires final legislative approval calls for spending of—are you seated—$209 billion!  A mere four countries have larger ones.

Some Pollyannas are saying that’s not enough and the terminally tight-fisted are getting ready to shout “NIMBUG” –not in my budget!

Newsom is cautioning the need for fiscal restraints and is too smart to mortgage the state on his private whims. If he plays it right he is likely to butt heads with both the ultra-liberal spenders and the fiercest budget hawks.

An adage which his predecessor had a good measure of success following was to promise less and deliver just enough. That formula made Jerry Brown one of the most popular governors in state history.

That may not suit Newsom who based on his history as a big city Mayor is determined to carve out his own path which could mean taking more risks.

It helps put things in some perspective when —barring major changes —you see how the budgetary pie is getting divvied up.

Health & Human Services accounts for 31%; K thru 12 education receives another 29%.

(Proposition 98 which the voters approved in 1988 mandates that a minimum of 40% of the general fund be spent on public education but the actual percentage is over 50%).

Business, Consumer Services and Housing are down for a paltry 2% which affordable housing advocates are already protesting is way short of that needed to reach goals.

(Newsom is calling for construction of 3.5 million homes by 2025—and that will be a very tangled web with numerous approaches being proposed.

Then there is the downside when the economy turns sour—which it inevitably must some day —and voters will be calling for lawmaker’s scalps while insisting they not be deprived of vital services.

Financing debt and additional taxes are not favorite topics for most lawmakers. But taking away what people come to view as entitlements is even less appealing is what has become a more entitlement-friendly society.

The brewing battle over Medicare expansion, public option, and the even more radical single-payer notions will be unavoidable issues in the upcoming presidential debates.

With California now reverting to one of the lead-off primaries in March 2020, a glaring spotlight will be trained on the candidates including California’s native daughter, the junior Sen. Kamala Harris.

Newsom’s views on this incendiary subject will also draw great interest as well as speculation about his future plans that could include a title bout with the lady Senator sometime in the distant future.

When Thomas Jefferson and his brilliant colleagues gathered in Philadelphia to sign a document containing what many thought to be merely sensible aspirations, little could they have foreseen the disagreements and conflicts this would one day ignite.

With each leadership rotation in Sacramento, forty-nine other states, in Congress and the Oval Office, the flames are constantly rekindled.

The voters have once again spoken and now events must be allowed to run their course.

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