Cue the Newsom Era!

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

Jerry Brown isn’t California’s governor any more. Governor Gavin Newsom’s first State of the State address couldn’t have made it clearer. That’s not merely because, right out of the box, Governor Newsom telegraphed that he wouldn’t be as guarded in his criticism of President Trump as Brown attempted to be.

Governor Newsom hasn’t wasted any time in calling out the Trump Administration. He is calling back the National Guard troops from the border, after Governor Brown had acceded to the President’s request for troops, while specifying they would not participate in immigration enforcement. Jerry Brown focused his confrontation with Trump world on climate change. Expect Gavin Newsom to speak out at every turn.

Newsom’s speech wasn’t thematic or “big-picture,” but rather a wonk fest of proposals, task forces and discrete Commission appointments. (And what usually happens when pols punt to a commission to “study” a problem? Not much.)

While Jerry Brown, in his famously short addresses, notably focused on a few priorities, Gavin Newsom is tackling a laundry list of the state’s problems, programs and opportunities. In his roughly 45-minute speech Newsom didn’t even get around—except in almost flip, shot-gun mentions–to climate change, free community college, family leave, universal health care or “reimagining” the DMV.

The new Governor put the brakes on two of former Governor Brown’s most ambitious projects—High Speed Rail and the twin-tunnels water conveyance. He dramatically scaled back both projects, but he hasn’t—yet—entirely cancelled them–thereby dodging any comparison with Donald Trump’s systematic dismantling of his predecessor’s legacy.

While Jerry Brown (at least Jerry Brown 2.0) spent much of his time in office under the radar, Governor Newsom is hard to miss. He seems to have a press availability almost every day on one subject or another. Brown’s and Newsom’s governing styles couldn’t be more different.

California’s new chief executive is reaping the benefits of a huge state budget surplus, bequeathed by the tight-fisted Brown, and of an overwhelming Democratic majority in both houses of the Legislature. At this point, there’s not much holding Newsom back from pursuing an ambitious agenda.

It remains to be seen whether Governor Newsom’s hyperactive routine will wear thin, and how he might fare when things go sour. A recession would definitely upset his policy goals. But, for now, Gavin Newsom is clearly enjoying his honeymoon. That was written all over his face as he marched through the Assembly chamber to take his place at that bully pulpit.

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