How dare Gov. Newsom play in national politics?
That has become a strong media criticism of the new governor—so strong it may be hardening into conventional wisdom. Newsom is doing all sorts of things that journalists think he shouldn’t be doing. Like traveling out of state, to El Salvador, presumably the sort of place one only goes to skip work and take a leisurely vacation. Or like putting a moratorium on the death penalty.
And he definitely shouldn’t be spending so much time fighting President Trump and a federal government hell-bent on hurting California.
No, Gavin should stick to his knitting: K-12 education, health care, prisons—the three big things the state does. And also housing and homelessness, which are a crisis here.
The reporters smell ambition, which Newsom shouldn’t have because, apparently, he must be completely unlike any politician.
As you can tell, I don’t understand this media narrative.
So what’s going on here? Perhaps journalists are over-compensating, after 8 years of almost completely adoring coverage of Jerry Brown. Maybe they are not used to a governor who is constantly moving and making news. (As a reporter, I hated relentless politicians who made lots of news—because I got less sleep).
The reality is that, whatever Newsom’s motives, he’s gotta engage with national politics. He is the governor of California, so the national political narrative is going to find him. He also has the problem of communicating with Californians, and that requires using the national political narrative, because media, even local media in California, is overwhelmingly dominated by national politics. If you want to get people’s attention, you may have to connect it to Trump.
The trouble with this criticism of Newsom is that it suggests the governor is somehow shirking California responsibilities. If anything, he’s doing too much on too many California fronts, raising questions of focus and making it hard for him to convey an all-encompassing narrative on state stuff. And Trump’s attacks have made immigration a profoundly California issue.
The better way to criticize Newsom is by looking deeply into his plans on California issues. Are they likely to work? Who is putting them together, and are those people compromised by their own interests? Is the administration rushing (as it seemed to do in embracing a new high-speed rail approach before it was fully cooked)?
These are questions that need answers.