When Gavin Newsom announced last week that he’s joining with
MC Hammer in an April 17 "Hands Across California" event to support community
colleges, it raised a question.

"There’s MC Hammer and Gavin Newsom. I wonder what Newsom’s
doing these days?"

Then there’s the two guys a San Francisco Chronicle reporter
last week
on a brief flight Newsom was taking with Richard Branson, founder
of Virgin America airlines, to join Mayor Ed Lee in dedicating a new terminal
at San Francisco International:

Francisco Mayor Ed Lee?" asked one Virgin America employee as former Mayor
Gavin Newsom sat three rows ahead.

replied the guy next to him. "Gavin’s the lieutenant governor now."

asked the first guy. "What’s the lieutenant governor do?"


generations of lieutenant governors before Newsom have discovered, the
lieutenant governor’s job in California is the political equivalent of the
witness protection program. They might not change your name, but people still
don’t know where you are or what you do for a living.

there’s a fine-sounding list of
on the LG’s plate, member of this board or that commission and
prestigious spots as a regent and trustee of the UC and the state college and
university systems. Problem is, even if the lieutenant governor attends all
those meetings – and few do – it really isn’t enough to keep an ambitious
politician busy. Or, even more important, visible.

especially grating for someone like Newsom, a policy wonk and idea machine who
has never been known for his patience. His seven years as San Francisco’s mayor
was marked by nearly constant action as he announced one new program and
initiative after another.

worked, some didn’t, and there were plenty of questions about Newsom’s ability
and/or willingness to follow through on everything he started, but by God he
was at the center of the action.

lieutenant governor, ah, isn’t.

good news is that Newsom has plenty of time to freelance, to use his office to
work on projects that are both important to California and that might polish
his image for an inevitable run for higher office (It’s a given that no sane
politician’s ultimate dream is to be lieutenant governor).

a strategy that worked out well for Jerry Brown, way back in his days as
secretary of state in the early 1970s. The once and future governor used a
focus on election law reform, including drafting the landmark Fair Political
Practices Act, to vault him into the state’s top office.

course, the fact that his father had spent eight years as governor didn’t hurt.

if Newsom hasn’t found that magic issue yet, it’s not for lack of trying.

doing the community college event Sunday, he was at a children’s health-care
function in Los Angeles last month and gave a speech to an energy efficiency
group in San Francisco two weeks back.

week, he will join
11 GOP legislators and a lone Democratic lawmaker on a jaunt to Texas
what Jack Stewart of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association
described as a fact-finding mission to "provide California policymakers the
opportunity to examine how Texas has been able to outpace the nation in
attracting new investment and growing jobs."

Newsom is the token liberal Democrat in a GOP group already convinced that
lower taxes and an end to business regulation will bring a new Golden Age to
California, he has to be delighted that anyone considers the lieutenant
governor a policymaker.

was unhappy when a recent story suggested
he was raising money for a 2014 run
for governor. The money, he said
pointedly, was for his re-election campaign for lieutenant governor.

Jerry Brown just turned 73 and is less than a week away from replacing Frank
Merriam as California’s oldest governor ever. Newsom would be far from the only
politician in the state to play "what if" with the governor’s job.

lining up for that race, whenever it might come, isn’t easy when you’re stuck
in a job that’s more a punchline than a springboard.

John Wildermuth is a longtime
writer on California politics.